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Mon Jul 12, 2021, 08:14 AM

Priscilla Johnson McMillan, historian who knew both JFK and Oswald, dies at 92

Obituaries

Priscilla Johnson McMillan, historian who knew both JFK and Oswald, dies at 92



An undated photo of author and historian Priscilla Johnson McMillan. (Lucy Cobos/Courtesy of Steerforth Press)

By Harrison Smith
July 9, 2021 | Updated July 10, 2021 at 4:56 p.m. EDT

Just out of graduate school in 1953, Priscilla Johnson McMillan joined the Senate staff of John F. Kennedy, then a newly elected Democrat from Massachusetts. He was “mesmerizing,” she later said; while she worked only briefly on Capitol Hill, she visited him in the hospital when he underwent spinal surgeries, and posed as one of his sisters to get past a line of nurses and bring newspapers to his bedside.

Mrs. McMillan, who was then known as Priscilla Johnson, later went into journalism and moved to Moscow, where she drew on her fluency in Russian to file stories for the North American Newspaper Alliance. In November 1959, a friend at the U.S. Embassy mentioned that “a boy named Oswald” was in town trying to defect. He was staying at her hotel, the Metropol, where she spent five hours interviewing him over tea.

The young man seemed excited, nervous, a little frightened. He was 20, a former Marine with a light Southern accent, and wanted to talk about Marxist economics and complain about the U.S. Embassy, which he said had tried to dissuade him from renouncing his citizenship. “I want to give people in the United States something to think about,” he said.



Mrs. McMillan in Moscow in 1955. She later returned to the Soviet Union as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. (Family photo)

Four years later, on Nov. 22, 1963, Mrs. McMillan was suddenly jolted back to their conversation, not long after learning that Kennedy, as president, had been assassinated in Dallas. Walking through Harvard Square, near the university where she was a visiting scholar, a friend told her that authorities had arrested the shooter. His name was Lee Harvey Oswald. ... “My God,” Mrs. McMillan recalled saying. “I know that boy.”

Indeed, she was one of the only people who knew both Kennedy and his killer, who died two days later after being shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. Their deaths launched her on a 14-year odyssey, as she tried to find out why the quiet young man she met in Moscow had decided to shoot the president.

{snip}

By Harrison Smith
Harrison Smith is a reporter on The Washington Post's obituaries desk. Since joining the obituaries section in 2015, he has profiled big-game hunters, fallen dictators and Olympic champions. He sometimes covers the living as well, and previously co-founded the South Side Weekly, a community newspaper in Chicago. Twitter https://twitter.com/harrisondsmith

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