The Old Order Changes: 1932-2009

As a friend and I strolled through Harvard Square on November 22, 1963, we heard rumors. At Nini’s Corner, a newsstand next to the Harvard Co-op, we learned President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

In the Co-op, we joined a crowd around the bank of TVs, where a shirt-sleeved CBS anchor Walter Cronkite spoke from every B&W screen, relaying unconfirmed reports of the President’s death, cutting to the Dallas Trade Mart, where Kennedy was to have spoken.

Guests milled. A white-jacketed waiter cried, dabbing his eyes with a table napkin. Someone removed the presidential seal from the podium. Reverend Luther Holcomb offered up a prayer.

Then: “From Dallas, Texas, a flash—apparently official,” Cronkite, removing his glasses, announced: “President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

On June 5, 1968, a neighbor burst in, waving a newspaper headlining Senator Robert Kennedy’s assassination in the kitchen of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel. Of the four Kennedy brothers, only Teddy was left.

In Boston, where I lived for 30 years, Kennedys were a fact of life—a force of life—in all their rambunctious ups and downs, tragedies and peccadilloes. Back then, Teddy, as everyone called him, was the feckless youngest brother, known to Harvard alums for having had to withdraw for two years after cheating on an exam. (Beginning Spanish. The demonic Chem 20 maybe. But Spanish A?) Then, the tragic affair of Chappaquiddick—a defining and lethal moment from which one thought he never would rebound.

But he did. Throughout other upheavals—marital conflicts, alcohol problems—Teddy persevered. He grew. He faced his terminal illness with dignity, worked for the betterment of others till the end.

Teddy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery August 29, close by his slain brothers. His casket was flown down from Boston following a funeral mass during which President Barack Obama, whom he had vigorously supported, eulogized him.

Obama, while referring to Edward M. Kennedy’s “personal failings and setbacks,” stressed, “He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.”

That is the lesson I draw from Teddy’s life: his ever-present opportunity for personal return and redemption. August 29 was Teddy’s turn. Nini’s Corner, still a fixture, no doubt sold many papers.

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