Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Boston Globe on October 21, 1979.
Dozens of those denizens who moved in and out of the Oval Office of the White House during the upbeat days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency mingled yesterday on the wind-blown lip of land where the grandest homage to the era they shaped, the new Kennedy Library, now sits.
The sedate ceremony of the dedication service was sandwiched, before and after, by the kind of affectionate hobnobbing and backslapping that characterized the JFK era. With the same emotional mix that accompanies a jazzman’s funeral, the sobriety seemed only a loud whistle away from a friendly touch football game on the library’s landscaped grounds.
As they cast occasional glances at each other’s waistlines, the New Frontier notables found themselves a trim, healthy group, seemingly still dedicated to the JFK proposition that a nation physically fit is a nation mentally prepared. As it has carved new wrinkles in the nation’s countenance, time had etched alterations in the faces of the McNamaras, Bundys, Sorensons, Salingers, Rusks, O’Briens, Dillons, even octogenarian Averell Harriman and other grandees.
The elegant women, the pinstripes, the tortoise shell glass frames, the bowties, the mop heads, the dusted off PT109 tie clips and even smatterings of Weejuns and Gants drifted among each other in a time warp, veering only occasionally among the hoi-polloi gathered on the site, moving as a herd into the seclusion of the library’s sixth floor for a private reception following the ceremony.
For many, it seemed, the more the world had changed since they had their chance to move and shake it, the more they had stayed the same. Even Dick Tuck, whose pranks needled Richard Nixon to the end, showed up in corduroys and running shoes to distribute jazzy wall posters bearing a calendar of the 1980 primaries.
John Doar appeared in a typically drab blue suit and renewed a 20-year- old acquaintance, going back to the Montgomery and Selma marches, with John Lewis, now associate director of Action.
Like servicemen waiting anxiously for the mail, three former postmasters general, Larry O’Brien, J. Edward Day and John Gronoski, sat near each other during the ceremony as balmy winds laced beneath hazy skies and ruffled the platform’s blue bunting.
Coretta Scott King, who missed one airplane and was bumped from another before taking a shuttle into Boston, walked onto the shoreline grounds with Andrew Young and sat beside Theodore Sorenson.
Four of JFK’s original Cabinet members, Dean Rusk, Orville Freeman, C. Douglas Dillon and Willard Wirtz drew near each other like wagons in front of the reserved section before the ceremony began and chatted briefly.
Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, in a battleship-gray suit appropriate to his pro-defense politics, observed the scene and remarked, “I’ve never seen more pols in one place in my life.”
Former press secretary Pierre Salinger followed his eight-inch cigar onto the site while towering John Kenneth Galbraith, his hair typically falling across his forehead, raised eyes as he moved to his seat.
Actress Angie Dickinson passed out hugs to friends she encountered on the library grounds.
John Chancellor, whose late arrival forced him to sit on the ground atop a sheet of paper from his press packet, complained he could not see well without opera glasses. “Oh, there’s Dean Rusk,” Chancellor said, smoking on a pipe, “I didn’t recognize him without his hat on.”
Perpetually bowtied Archibald Cox greeted retiring MIT President Jerome Weisner and joked about the vanishing of Cox’s dream, to be a federal court judge. “I’m the most publicized non-judge in the state,” Cox laughed.
Billy Sutton, whose Kennedy political roots dig back to JFK’s first congressional race, found the atmosphere ebullient, “like it’s everybody’s wedding. Everybody is joyful. It’s like a class reunion for 100 different classes altogether.”
There was no mad scramble among the elite as they moved to their seats in the VIP section, although not everyone meriting the special seating arrangement was able to get in. Fayette, Miss., Mayor Charles Evers, uncharacteristically dressed in a pinstriped suit, absent-mind edly left his formal invitation in his hotel room and found himself shut out by security from the reserved section.
Joe Califano, cheerful and comfortable in gold-colored pants and a brown blazer, satisfied himself with a seat atop the concrete base of a light stanchion between the press section and reserved seating.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Endicott Peabody, dashing in a loud plaid sports jacket, came accompanied by a bevy of aides, one of whom approached a reporter and said, “That man is former Gov. Peabody, don’t forget to recognize him.”
State Sen. Joe Timilty, running against Mayor Kevin White’s reelection plans, wandered around the grounds with a camera snapping pictures. Asked if he got a shot of White, Timilty joked, “Yea, from behind.”