Below you will find a few biographical details about those who wrote the notes, letters, and messages on the right.

 

POLITICAL FRIENDS & FOES

Dean Rusk: US Secretary of State under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and closely identified with Johnson’s Vietnam War policy. After his retirement in 1969 he taught at the University of Georgia Law School for 14 years. He died in 1994 at age 83.

 

U Thant: A Burmese diplomat, he served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971. He was regarded with envy by the military junta that took power in his homeland, and he died in the USA in 1974.

 

Enid Rivkin: During the Kennedy years, Enid Rivkin was the wife of the US Ambassador to Luxembourg, William Rivkin. She was also the mother of Charles Rivkin, shown above, who was appointed US Ambassador to France by President Obama in 2009.

 

 

Jim Wright: Texas Congressman for 34 years, House Majority Leader for 10 and Speaker of the House for 2 (the last two of the Reagan presidency). Wright represented the Fort Worth-Weatherford area and was also in the motorcade through Dallas the morning of November 22, 1963. After resigning from the House he briefly taught at Texas Christian University.


 

James Gavin: Retired World War II hero General James Gavin served for two years as JFK’s ambassador to France. He was often criticized by some in the administration for paying too much heed to General De Gaulle. In the years that followed Gavin became one of the most prominent military critics of American escalation in the Vietnam War. He died in 1990.

 

 

 

FRIENDS & ACQUAINTANCES 

John Carl Warnecke: Warnecke was a renowned architect who helped Jacqueline Kennedy with her plan to save the historic buildings facing the White House around Lafayette Square. In October 1963 he advised the President in selecting the site intended for the JFK Library, and after the funeral he was engaged by the Kennedy family to design the Arlington gravesite. For a brief period after the assassination he was a regular companion of the former First Lady. He died in April 2010.

 

George Cabot Lodge: Lodge served in the Kennedy administration as Assisstant Secretary of Labor for International Affairs.

 

Elizabeth “Beldy” Holden: As Beldy Walker, she was a classmate of Jacqueline Kennedy at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut.

 

REMEMBRANCES

Walter Heller: Important economist and head of Kennedy’s and brieflyl also of Johnson’s White House Council of Economic Advisors. One of those who played a key role in setting the JFK’s basically liberal agenda towards labor and the economy. He died in 1987.

 

Sarah Gibson Blanding: President of Vassar College and a noted voice for women's education. In April, 1962, she attended the famous Nobel Prize Dinner at the White House—the only women’s college president to do so, in the company of the presidents of Harvard, Yale & Princeton. She died in 1985.

 

ADMIRERS

Sallie McLenahan Thompson: Like Jacqueline Kennedy a graduate of Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT. Mrs. Thompson was the wife of and Episcopal clergyman. During the great civil rights upheaval of the Kennedy years she and her husband were living in Mississippi.

 


CHILDREN

Eileen Fitzgerald: Today Eileen FitzGerald is the education reporter for the News Times in Danbury, Connecticut, where she has worked since 1993. At the time of President Kennedy's assassination, she was an 8th grader at St. Mary School in Westfield, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

Connections
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MORE LETTERS

 

The collection of condolence correspondence in the JFK Library in Boston is so rich that if we had been writing a different kind of book we would have included dozens if not hundreds of additional letters. Below are edited selections of some of the ones we had originally hoped to include in our volume but had to leave out for reasons of space and concision.

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POLITICAL FRIENDS & FOES

Dean Rusk, Secretary of State; telegram sent from Aircraft 86972 en route to Hawaii and eventually Andrews Air Force Base. At the moment Kennedy was shot in Dallas, six members of his Cabinet were on a plane which had been flying from Hawaii to Japan to prepare for a visit by JFK after a high-level pow-wow in Honolulu about the deteriorating war situation in Vietnam. Once word came that the President was seriously wounded, the plane was ordered to return to Washington as soon as possible. After hearing that the President was dead Dean Rusk, as Secretary of State the highest-ranked cabinet official in the group, sent a telegram for all six.

UNCLAS

FROM THE SECSTATE

TELEGRAM TO MRS. JOHN F. KENNEDY

     MY FELLOW CABINET OFFICERS AND I SHARE YOUR TRAGIC LOSS ON THIS DARK DAY IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY. MAY GOD GIVE YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN STRENGTH AND COMFORT.

                                                 DEAN RUSK

 

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Virginia Rusk, handwritten letter of November 27, 1963. The wife of the Secretary of State under both Kennedy and Johnson, Mrs. Rusk was known for her equanimity in the face of anti-Vietnam War protests. She frequently represented her husband and the nation during formal occasions in all parts of the world.  

 

Dear Mrs. Kennedy:

     With some knowledge of the tremendous outpouring of sympathy, admiration and affectionate tribute which has and will continue to come to you, I have been almost hesitant to add one more letter.

     Your magnificent courage and dignity—your solicitude for your children and for others throughout the events of these past days have helped to sustain us all in this tragedy the peoples of the world share with you.

     And I would like you to know how another small act of yours some months ago—one which you may have forgotten—has meant to Dean and myself.

     On returning from our trip to the Soviet Union last August, my husband showed me the letter you had written to him in our absence. In it you spoke with much personal feeling and genuine delight of the volumes of letters he had had compiled for you and the President. I knew of the project but in his desire to put it in your hands before we left on this mission I had not had the opportunity to see it myself.

     But no matter, for your evident appreciation of it and your vivid description of the vignettes of history which these letters recorded for you, was for us both an unforgettable reward and one which has done much to carry him through some of the more difficult days and for this I shall always be grateful to you.

     You spoke at that time of feeling so inadequate to find words to express yourself. I shall not even try. WE first heard the news of your husband's death while flying high over the Pacific. AS a woman my first thought was how glad I was that you were with him. You still are and always will be and the two of you in the hearts and minds of all of us forever.

                              In deepest sincerity,

                                 Virginia Rusk

Washington, D.C.

27 November, 1963

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U Thant, Secretary General of the United Nations, telegram dated November 22.

NEW YORK NY 22 425P EST

MRS. J F KENNEDY

WITH DEEPEST SORROW AND A HEAVY HEART, I WISH TO CONVEY TO YOU MY PROFOUND CONDOLENCES ON THIS SAD OCCASION. YOUR HUSBAND'S COURAGE AND NOBLE HUMAN QUALITIES WILL SURELY BE A SOURCE OF STRENGTH TO YOU IN THE YEARS AHEAD. WE SHARE YOUR DEEP SENSE OF LOSS

     U THANT

 

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Enid Rivkin, handwritten letter.

Embassy of the
United States of America

Luxembourg
December 10, 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

       Since I know from bitter personal experience what profound pain you are suffering, perhaps mere knowledge of my compassion will be of some comfort.

        There is so much I want to say to you. Our lives have been such a strange parallel. During the Wisconsin Primary in Milwaukee, and then at your lovely dinner for Grand Duchess Charlotte, I felt an empathy with you that of course, because of your busy life, could never be expressed.

             I was pregnant with our Robert all during the Campaign, and since I, too, was forced to stay home while my husband roamed the Country getting Democratic votes, I drew some solace from comparing my condition to yours. Our Robert was born the same week as your John Jr., and Bill and I have enjoyed so much watching the two boys develop together.

      Through your husband's confidence and generosity we have had the privilege of officially representing you in Luxembourg. Just as my husband has used your husband as his inspiration, I have attempted to emulate your excellence in my challenging job of running the Embassy Residence. It has been a most rewarding experience, and it was only through your example of managing the White House so graciously that I have been, I hope, a successful Ambassador's wife.

       But a not so happy parallel in our lives draws me even closer to you. When I was 27 (I'm your age now), my young husband died, leaving me with two little girls exactly the same age as Caroline and John Jr.

       You will begin to understand soon that the only really healing comfort is Time, and even those patient arms can't salve the wounds that reopen in the late dark hours to be unmercifully washed in the salty deluge you have so successfully retained in the daylight. What can I say, except I know . . . . I know. . . . I know. . . .

     But believe me, your children will light the way for you, and Time will do what no words can hope to achieve.

                                               Very sincerely,

                                                  Enid Rivkin

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Congressman Jim Wright; telegram sent on Saturday November 22, 1963 at 12:38 pm Eastern Standard Time.

WASHINGTON DC 23 1238P EST

. . . ALWAYS WILL I REMEMBER HIM AS HE WAS THAT MORNING; SO BUOYANT, SO ALIVE, SO OUTGOING. . . . MAY YOUR MARVELOUS FAITH SUSTAIN YOU

JAMES C WRIGHT JR MEMBER OF CONGRESS 

 

______________________________________________________________________________________  James Gavin, handwritten letter.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Nov. 26, 1963

My dear Jacqueline

     Jean and I are devastated, and brokenhearted—for you and for our country. He, and you together, gave our country something that it had never known in a presidential family and never shall again. From this day forward all of our lives will be much poorer—but for his memory, which we shall always treasure.

          You have been a great First Lady, and gallant and courageous in your hour of bereavement.

           If there is a single thing that we can ever do please call upon us.

           Our love goes out to you.

                                                     Jim

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FRIENDS & ACQUAINTANCES

John Carl Warnecke, handwritten letter.

                                                Monday November 25

Dear Jacqueline,

     I feel my words will be so futile in trying to tell you how I feel but I must try—I must tell you how on this day and for the past 3 days how struck I have been with grief and how deeply I feel the loss of our President. He was our future. To lose him was to lose our powerful force for peace and good will towards all men. To me the highest spirit and purpose of man was personified in his life. To have known him is to have added a great dimension to my existence.

      Your grief at this time must be beyond comprehension for you and you alone have carried the love and sorrow of your marriage to one of the greatest men our country has ever known. Because you have had great and joyful experiences you are one warm and wonderful woman. Equally because you have had to often travel life's road alone you have gained a remarkable measure of strength and courage. Everyone loves you and stands undoubtedly behind you.

      I really came into your life quite by accident; but when I did there was no question but that I was in it. I cherished the fact that both you and the President accepted me completely.

      Sorrow and heartaches surely will lie ahead for you, but please remember that there are so many of us that really want to help you. In the days and time to come, if in any small way I can but shoulder the pain of your burden I shall always be available.

      God bless you on this day that darkness surrounds our land and bless him that gives us faith that there is light and goodness beyond.

      With sincerity and with deepest sympathy and affection

      God Bless You — John Warnecke

                                            

                                             Tuesday Nov 24

P.S.

     . . . I stood in the middle of Memorial Bridge yesterday afternoon. The sky was soft blue and the autumn sun was warm and in the quiet there was a gentleness everywhere.

     To the left of me was the beautiful Lincoln Memorial with the tops of the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond. To my right was Lee Custiss and Arlington. In front of me unfolded this magnificent pageant and tribute that you have led so nobly during these dark hours.

     As you and the President passed I stood for a while and watched the great of the world pass by. Then slowly I walked towards Arlington and Taps. Those last moments were moments of great beauty and hope.

                                             Sincerely    Jack

         ______________________________________________________________________________________

George Cabot Lodge, handwritten letter.

George C. Lodge

Beverly, Massachusetts

                                                       Nov 26, 1963

Dear Jackie:

     I know that you are keenly aware of the great shock and sadness which the President's death brought to this nation; it can only be a pallid reflection of your own. I happened to be in Washington on that dreadful Friday and wandered aimlessly through the silent streets for hours, part of the tearful, desperate crowd, bewildered by the news, angered, confused, and, most of all, terribly sad and not a little frightened that our nation should have been so senselessly and cruelly deprived of a great leader, which it badly needed.

     But what you cannot know so well is the incalculable strength which came to the millions who watched the fortitude of you and your family during the funeral ceremonies. I doubt that ever in history has a nation witnessed such a thoroughly inspiring sequence of events. While they were enriched by the trappings of history and tradition and given meaning by the glory of religion, they were unique in their grandeur by virtue of the very special nobility given to them by you and your children. The great sense of loss cannot be blunted, but what was blind misery and hopelessness has become converted into that spirit of confidence, dedication to high purpose and victory which is so beautifully stated in the President's Inaugural Address.

     Nancy joins me in sending you and your children our love and boundless sympathy.

                                                 George

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Undated, typewritten letter from Elizabeth “Beldy” Holden.

Dear Jacky,

       It is a strange thing to write this letter for as I write I wonder if I will ever send it or you will ever see it - if I do - amidst the thousands that will come to you.

       First to tell you that I am not a complete stranger I was Betty (Beldy) Walker in Farmington-M.P.S. the same year that you were. That is a long time away now and you have seen many faces and I wouldn't be surprised if the name meant nothing.

     Whether I write as an old acquaintance – and friend too of Yusha's – or simply as a stranger -–an American abroad – it doesn't really matter. I cannot say or write anything that has not been said in the last five days but I want to underline (the newspaper headlines often seem official – impersonal) that the world – or at least a good part of the world wept with you and for you in this nightmarish happening. I was in Florence at the time – with three children – and time and again an Italian or a travelling American would come up to me with tears in his or her eyes and convey the profound sadness and shock which they experienced. There was something very special – inspiring – heartening – moving about what your husband said – did – and was. It's hard to put in words this thing. It's obviously complex. . . but it did transcend countries and various barriers – and people did see in him the hope of the world. And when he went in this untimely abrupt shocking way they truly, Jackie, did lose something personal – and so it hurt and cut deep into their marrow – as if it were their own personal loss – which it was.

     And you, Jacky— no words can tell you of the courage you showed during these days. All I could think of was how proud he would have been – and is – of it all. But it's funny how one brave person – or a brave family – can set an example – make better and purer the rest of the people.

     I close now. I shall send the letter. It may not arrive in all the swarms of mail but on the chance it may I send it. Here – far away from my country (and it is a strange and difficult experience to be absent at such a time) I think much of you – and can only tell you that truly throughout the world people mourn. Throughout the world people have been struck deeply in the heart for you – for the United States. I suppose the great thing is what we do with the short time allotted to us – and perhaps by these standards there is some comfort.

      Dear jacky (I could not call you Mrs. K. in the name of old MPS) my love and untold admiration to you in these rough days. You both did more for the world in a short time than most of us can do in a lifetime–

                                              Beldy Holden

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REMEMBRANCES

 

Walter Heller, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors; handwritten note

WASHINGTON
Saturday
November 23

Dear Mrs. Kennedy:

 For now, let me simply share—and I wish that enlarging my share could reduce yours—in your grief at the loss of John F. Kennedy, for whom familiarity bred only deep respect and great affection.

For later, let me share with you some of the notes I occasionally jotted down on both the serious and the humorous, both the professional and the personal, facets of the President and his presidency. When the time is more appropriate—when these little chronicles will help more than hurt—I shall send them along.

Yours,

Walter

 

     Three days before the assassination, Heller had drafted his “Notes on a Quick Meeting with the President and Other Leading Members of the Kennedy Family,” a document he presumably later forwarded to the First Lady, who later thanked him for such anecdotes as:

      “When I came into Evelyn Lincoln’s office, there were Caroline, drawing pictures at one side of the office and John-John, with a mighty bruised and scratched nose, playing with a children’s tea set at the other end of the room. . . .

     "John-John came over with a little aluminum plate and said he was serving ‘terry-manilla pie’ [cherry-vanilla to those unschooled in these matters . . . .] I asked him to give me a fork—but he brought me a spoon, and then I dutifully ate my portion. . . .

     "At this point, John-John pulled me over next to him and said, ‘Sit down!’ . . . and he was about to serve up something else, when Evelyn indicated that the President could see me now. So I went into the President’s office and sat down in the chair next to his desk, but . . . John-John had trailed me in . . . and . . . said, ‘Not this chair, the chair back in the other room.’"

 

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Typewritten letter from Sarah Gibson Blanding. Blanding was the president of Vassar College for nearly two decades—during the two years  Jacqueline Kennedy attended it and during the entire time John F. Kennedy was president.

Vassar College

   Office of the President

                                                                                           November 26, 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy:

Vassar College sends to you and your family its deepest sympathy and love. We are proud to count you an alumna. I write to tell  you how Vassar joined the nation in mourning.

     The Vassar community, with the rest of the country and the world, was stunned. Shocked disbelief gave way to anger, indignation, and profound sorrow. On the eve of what was expected to be a big football weekend, everything was dropped. The Chapel doors were opened and from Friday afternoon until Monday night students, many unused to prayer, left the television sets or their radios to come and sit silently trying to understand what cannot be understood. On Friday night the Chaplain conducted a brief and moving Memorial Service for a man great in his own right and a symbol for the free world. I participated in that service and sat facing a Chapel filled with stricken young faces, many still too shocked and hurt to weep, others stained with tears.

     The campus, usually so alive, was quiet all weekend. On Sunday morning the Chapel was full again. Non-church-goers came seeking solace. As they left the service, word came that violence had bred further violence. This murder, understandable in its motivation, provoked not mourning but indignation at its insult to the principle of government by law, not by passion. . . .

    All classes were suspended on Monday and . . . the College . . . gathered late in the afternoon for a Vesper Service in the Chapel.

      It has been a shattering, terrible weekend. We know that only now can you begin to face your personal grief and loss. . . It was said last night with deepest truth that you, Jacqueline Kennedy, transformed ugly violence and chaos into something that will be remembered in reverence as an affirmation of decency and integrity.

      Vassar College is proud that you were once a student here. We mourn with you.

                                                 Sincerely,

                                                                   Sarah Gibson Blanding

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ADMIRERS

Sallie McLenahan Thompson, handwritten letter.

                                                       Greenville, Miss.

                                                           December 12th

Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

. . . You and your family have been in my husband’s and my thoughts and prayers these past weeks.

     We have recently moved to Mississippi where he is an Episcopal clergyman. Greenville is an “oasis” in a hard-to-understand state; but I feel you would be gratified to know that the goals for which the late President strove seem closer to being realized thanks to the dedicated efforts of a number of citizens, such as Hodding Carter III, whose editorials in the Delta Democrat Times have never wavered in their stand. People here respected your husband for the youthful, energetic and dedicated man he was, in spite of some political differences. . . .

Our prayer is that not only will the torch and your courage keep alive the spirit of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; but that the whole nation will through its actions!

May God bless you and your two children.

                                         Very sincerely,

                                         Sallie McClenahan Thompson

                                         (an M.P.S. “Ancient”)

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 CHILDREN 

 Many children wrote to the First Lady. One was a teenager from western Massachusetts:

                                                    Westfield, MA

                                                    January 19, 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

     I am only thirteen years old and I am not a poet or a writer but I would like to express my deepest sympathies over the death of your husband. He was a great man and we will miss him very much.

     I hope you don't think I just write to get my letter in the John FitzGerald Kennedy Memorial Library. I want you to know how much I thought of Mr. Kennedy and to let you know how terrible I feel. I was a fifth cousin of the late president and although I never met him I felt close as though he was from my family.

     I am writing to represent my family; my mother and father, Kathleen, Maureen, Thomas and me.

     Your husband was my idea of the greatest man that ever lived. You are my image. Even in those four dark days you did not fail me nor the entire world. We always remember you and John Jr. and Caroline in our prayers and we always will

     Please accept my deepest sympathies.

                                            

                                                      Eileen FitzGerald

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