Politics
4:51 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Rhode Island Remembers JFK

November 22, 1963 started out as an ordinary day at the Providence Evening Bulletin. By 12:30, city editor Jim Wyman was ready for lunch and headed across the street to the Providence Journal diner. He had just settled into his favorite stool when the phone on the counter jangled to life.

“It was the managing editor seeking me and urging me to get back across the street because the president had been shot,” Wyman explains.

The newsroom was a scene of chaos as copy editors raced down file articles, teletypes ran non-stop and reporters cried out for more paper. Wyman would work a 23 hour day that day.  He kept his composure until he drove home to Cumberland.

Judge Sarah T. Hughes administers the Presidential Oath of Office to Lyndon Baines Johnson aboard Air Force One, at Love Field, Dallas Texas.
Credit Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

“I suddenly felt overwhelmed,” Wyman remembers. ”Like nothing I’d ever experienced before. And suddenly I found my eyes welling with tears and then I started to weep openly, unashamedly for long minutes.”

Wyman said the day the president was shot was the highlight of a career that spanned 45 years.

“I guess I was like a lot of people who had watched Kennedy’s rise in the political bastion and the vibrancy of his administration and the promise that was held out to everyone. I think seeing all of that destroyed in one or two shots from a rifle was hard to get your mind around,” said Wyman.

Nuala Pell Remembers The Day

While Wyman was racing to get special editions on the street, Nuala Pell, wife of Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, was at work in her Georgetown home. 

“I was sitting at my desk in Washington,” Pell recalls, “and I heard it on the radio which I had on and I couldn’t get through to the capitol to get through to Claiborne who was down at the Senate because everything was taken, you know. The telephones were overwhelmed by other people who heard it. I couldn’t believe it at first.”

Nuala Pell helped Jackie Kennedy write "thank you" cards to those who sent their condolences.
Credit Flo Jonic / RIPR

It was Claiborne Pell’s 45th birthday.  He was devastated by the loss, said his widow.

“That was the worst part. We were so excited to have this new and young president who was the same age as we were come into office and it was devastating really, absolutely devastating, for both Claiborne and I,” said Pell. “It took us a long time to get over it.”

Nuala Pell later played a role in the drama that followed.

“Jackie asked some people to come and help her write thank you letters for the letters she got so I went to the White House day after day to write letters. That was tough, you know,” said Pell. She remembers Jackie Kennedy thanking those who helped, “that was a tough time,” she said, “I remember that.”

Dr. Stanley Aronson Was In A New York Library

Brown University Medical School dean emeritus Stanley Aronson was doing research at the New Rochelle, New York public library when the president was assassinated. He remembers being annoyed that people were disturbing the quiet of the stacks.

“And it was a little annoying because I could not make out what they were saying,” remembers Aronson “and when I check out some books I saw the librarian behind the desk crying and as a nosy physician I put down the books and asked ‘can I help you?’ illness or something. And she shook her head and said ‘he’s dead.”

Aronson, like the rest of the country, was shocked by the news.

“Sadness. I voted for him. I enjoyed his image. He was youthful. He was presidential. He was liberal. He was articulate. He was educated,” said Aronson. “And I thought that other than his playing around with nuclear warfare with the Russians I thought he was a good president.”

Aronson disapproved of some of the news coverage that followed.

“I saw article after article, even in my favorite New York Times, of more attention paid to what Mrs. Kennedy was wearing during, before and after the funeral and the activities of her children,” he said. “I don’t consider myself old-fashioned.”

The greatest generation was proud of President Kennedy. And his loss left them deeply shaken.

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