An Irishman's Diary
The “happiest four days of John F Kennedy’s life” was how White House aide David Powers recalled the American president’s visit to Ireland in June, 1963 – 50 years ago.
David “Dave” Powers was the son of John and Catherine (nee Green) Powers, emigrants from Co Cork, who had settled in Boston, Massachusetts. Born in 1912, he began working at the age of 10, as a newspaper vendor in the city’s Charlestown naval dockyards, to support his widowed mother.
During the second World War he joined the US army and served in Asia.
After the war, he was an unemployed veteran when he met a young campaigning politician who reputedly said: “My name is Jack Kennedy. I’m a candidate for Congress, and I’d like you to work for me”.
Powers joined the team and stayed with JFK to the poignant end. He was ultimately rewarded by being appointed to the White House staff following Kennedy’s election as president of the United States in November 1960.
According to the Washington Post “his title was ‘special assistant’, which, as applied to Mr Powers, meant receptionist, gatekeeper, greeter, court jester, sounding board and repository of trivia”.
Powers described himself as “Just a newsboy who met a president”. He accompanied JFK everywhere – and was in the Secret Service car behind the presidential limousine in Dallas on the day the president was assassinated in November 1963. He was heartbroken at the death of a man who he regarded as “the greatest” and as his “best friend”. He helped the widowed Jackie Kennedy to make the funeral arrangements and then stayed on in the White House to assist Lyndon B Johnson – the succeeding president – but eventually retired from the post in 1965.
He later became first curator of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and, with Ken O’Donnell, another former member of the president’s staff wrote a best-selling book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye about JFK.
David (Dave) Powers died in 1998 and his funeral was attended by leading members of the Kennedy family including JFK’s daughter Caroline who described him as “a loyal and devoted friend” to her parents.
Last year, his family discovered a hidden cache of mementoes of his time with JFK during a house clearance as they prepared to sell his home.
The extensive range of memorabilia, which includes photographs, documents and keepsakes, will be sold by John McInnis Auctioneers in Amesbury, Massachusetts on Sunday, February 17th . The auction will be broadcast online and has already attracted advance registration to bid from collectors worldwide – including in Ireland.
The auctioneers said, “Dave’s family discovered these items locked away last year as they prepared to sell the family home” and described the collection as “personal items he chose to keep close to himself throughout his lifetime” and which “encompasses years of history with the Kennedy family and his White House years”.
Powers had accompanied the president during his visit to Ireland and included in the sale is a large photo of O’Connell Street, Dublin on June 26th, 1963 signed, and jokily inscribed by the president: “ ‘Homecoming’ for Dave Powers – from his travelling companion – Dublin”, which is expected to sell for up to $10,000.
A collection of some 100 colour slides of aerial view photographs of the Irish visit taken by Powers aboard Air Force 1 and the Marine 1 helicopter has an estimate of $300-600.
Other Irish-interest items include hand-written notes kept by Powers during the visit, typed recollections, a “green enamelled harp pin” and a banner printed with “Céad Míle Fáilte”.
An Air Force 1 “leather bomber jacket” worn by president Kennedy is expected to sell for up to $ 20,000, but many of the over 700 lots have more modest estimates.
Caroline Kennedy, is among members of the extended Kennedy family, expected to visit Ireland in June for ceremonies in New Ross, Co Wexford to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her father’s visit and the opening of a new visitor centre at the ancestral Kennedy homestead in the nearby townland of Dunganstown. David Powers would surely be pleased.