An insider’s account of the Kennedy brothers
Gerard Doherty was a fundraiser for John F Kennedy, a campaign organiser for Bobby and a lifelong friend of Ted
The Kennedy brothers Edward, John and Robert at Washington’s Gridiron Club banquet in 1958. Photograph: Getty Images
Senator Edward M Kennedy died on August 25th, 2009. He lay in state at the John F Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. My wife and I were asked by his family to be the first non-family mourners to keep vigil with his body. We sat by his casket for the first four hours of the public viewing. As I sat next to my friend’s body, I began to revisit memories of Ted and his brothers Jack and Bob that spanned more than 50 years of our friendships. Our journey as friends scrolled through my mind. They were great friendships; ones that I will cherish forever.
While sitting there, I decided to write my book, They Were My Friends: Jack, Bob and Ted. As I made that decision I was carried back to the day where I first met President Kennedy. I was a recent graduate of Malden Catholic high school and had been accepted at Harvard. The day, June 17th, 1946, was celebrated as Bunker Hill Day and a young Jack Kennedy, a candidate for Congress, was marching in the parade that happened to stop for a rest in front of my home. My father provided lemonade as a refreshment to the marchers and while giving Jack Kennedy a cup of lemonade he introduced me to candidate Jack Kennedy and proudly announced that I had been accepted to Harvard. The future president drank his lemonade, congratulated me and marched on.
As my political career advanced with my election as a state representative I met the president at several political functions. He always remembered me from our first meeting along with the Harvard connection. President Kennedy, in 1962, invited me to the White House where he asked me to manage his brother Ted’s campaign for the United States Senate. He then asked me to meet the attorney general Robert Kennedy to work out the details. It was my first meeting with Bob Kennedy.
My most memorable encounter with President Kennedy was in September 1963 when he asked me to organise a fundraiser for him, in Boston, where he hoped to raise $200,000. It seemed at the time an impossible task, but I underestimated the number of people who wished to contribute. We raised $750,000 and 7,000 people attended the dinner. The attendees filled two sections of an armoury.
The afternoon of the dinner, I was invited to meet the president in his hotel suite. When I entered, the president thanked me and with a big smile said he wanted to reward my hard work. At the president’s request, two huge bowls of chocolate ice cream appeared. We sat, talked and enjoyed our ice cream. Having a one-on-one conversation with President Kennedy remains one of my favorite memories.
I did not know Bob Kennedy very well until June of 1968 when Ted asked me if I would go to Indiana to organise Bob’s campaign for President. I agreed and soon realised that he was a huge underdog in a state that President Kennedy had lost by a wide margin. As I started to organise, I recognised that Bob had a chance to pull off a major upset.
However, his Washington staff was against the campaign because of the long odds. I was summoned to Washington for a meeting with Bob and his staff. I was the only one who favoured his entering the primary election. Bob Kennedy sided with me when he said, “If I am as good as I think I am, then I will win in Indiana. And if I am not as good as I think I am, I should find out sooner rather than later.”
He went on to a huge upset win. I spent many hours with Bob and members of his family during the campaign. On the night of his win he said to me, “Gerry, you are Ted’s good friend. You have been great in this fight for me and I hope now I can be considered your friend.” He then asked me to run his campaign in New York to which I agreed. He was murdered less than a month later.
My good friend Ted. It is hard for me to sum up over 50 years of friendship and hundreds of hours of being together in conversations that ranged over many topics. I can say that Ted was a good man and a loyal friend. He had his faults as we all do. He was well known for publicly backing legislation that benefitted all the people and for his relentless pursuit of universal health care. What the public did not know is that he performed many acts of kindness, such as paying for people’s hospital bills anonymously. He left his mark as the American champion for universal health care.
In my book, I relate many previously unknown anecdotes about Ted: some are humorous, some are sad and some out of character. However, my favourite times that I spent with Ted were when he was in hospital with a broken back and he was encased in a Stryker frame. He had to be turned every eight hours from facing the ceiling to facing the floor. During this period, I spent every Saturday night at the hospital alone with Ted for a period of four months. I would arrive with ice cream and a movie. We would watch the movie and then have our ice cream. When we were eating the ice cream our conversations ranged far and wide until we landed on the subject of health care and its costs to the average citizen. It was during this period that he began his interest in universal health care. From these conversations I witnessed his passion grow to where it became his life’s goal – to bring universal health care to every American.
When the three brothers were together there was no doubt as to the “pecking” order. The President was first. Bob or as some called him Bobby was second, even though he sometimes got on the edge and Ted was deferential to both. As brothers, all were loyal to each other first.
- They Were My Friends: Jack, Bob and Ted by Gerard F Doherty is out now