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Kennedy memories haven’t dimmed (JFK’s Nebraska-born speechwriter) [View All]

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Omaha Steve Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jun-22-08 10:35 AM
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Kennedy memories haven’t dimmed (JFK’s Nebraska-born speechwriter)
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Edited on Sun Jun-22-08 10:46 AM by Omaha Steve

I got Ted's autographed book later on yesterday. I have an AFSCME for Kennedy poster to frame one I find it. It was misplaced when we moved in Nov. of 06.


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A “Kennedy for President” poster hung on a wall Friday, the candidate’s smiling visage a reminder of the past.
Theodore Sorensen, now 80, JFK’s Nebraska-born speechwriter, sat at a dining-room table signing his book “Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History.”

Next to him sat Kathleen Cavanaugh, 88, recent recipient of the Douglas County Democratic Party’s Eleanor Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award.

You could connect a lot of dots in history at the Omaha home of her son, John Cavanaugh, a former congressman. (Kathleen was living in Washington, D.C., and pregnant with John when President Franklin Roosevelt’s funeral procession passed by her in 1945.) The 100 or so attending Friday reminded her of past political rallies. The widow of Jack Cavanaugh, a longtime County Board member, recalled: “In gatherings like this, I would be making the rounds to talk to everybody.”

She attended a memorable one Aug. 9, 1959, in the backyard at 9015 Hickory St. Sen. John F. Kennedy, 42, told 400 people at the home of Bernard Boyle, Democratic national committeeman, that the 1960 Nebraska primary would be key.
Speaking for five minutes, he quoted three poets and then signed copies of his “Profiles in Courage.”

Kennedy won the primary but not Nebraska. He won the presidency with the help of Sorensen. They worked closely for 11 years, until the assassination.

I have visited the Dallas museum at the site of JFK’s shooting twice, and sat on the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza. Ted Sorensen never has, nor has he viewed the Zapruder film of the shooting.
He has never embraced the conspiracy theories, but writes that “it is equally hard to believe that none of JFK’s enemies was behind his death.”

He says he is torn.

Kennedy, he writes, often teased about death. Driving too fast one evening in the nation’s capital, JFK “joked about which one of us would be featured in the Nebraska press if we were both killed in a fatal crash.”

Friday evening, people enjoyed food that included a layer cake topped by the two most memorable words of Kennedy’s inaugural speech: ASK NOT.

Sorensen told guests he is grateful for his Nebraska public education and his formative Nebraska values. He signed and signed, and I made my way up to ask a couple of questions.

Vietnam? “JFK,” he said, “was too smart to get bogged down in a land war in Asia.”
Was the famous soaring language of his speechwriting intended to match the Kennedy vocal cadence? “It has to be natural to the speaker,” he said.

The Nebraska Democratic Party, energized by its February caucus won by Sen. Barack Obama, is meeting this weekend in Fremont. Sorensen cites similarities with JFK, including the ability to “inspire and galvanize.” After several days in his home state, Ted Sorensen returns to his home in New York City. For Kathleen Cavanaugh, the grand lady of Democratic politics in Omaha, the visit of JFK’s aide must have been poignant.

She recalled all those south Omaha rallies, the thrill of Kennedy’s election, the weeping of her children as they rushed home from St. Mary School to say the president had been killed.

Sorensen writes of his regret that he never got to say goodbye, to offer one last statement of affection and respect.

“We had both always been too busy and unsentimental in our daily work, subjected to daily pressures. . . . I had never even asked for an autographed picture of us together.”

Sorensen asked not. But, as a speechwriter and adviser, he did what he could do for his country.

■ Contact the writer: 444-1132, [email protected]

Michael Kelly

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