Teens at JFK speech 50 years ago came back as leaders

bud@star-telegram.comNovember 22, 2013 

Tom Schieffer JFK

Arlington Heights High School students John Lanford, center left, Tom Schieffer and Ronnie Curry, right, reach out to shake hands with President John F. Kennedy, right edge, in Fort Worth on Nov. 22, 1963.

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN — Archive TV footage

When you throw a breakfast only once every 50 years, you ought to do it right.

Fort Worth did it right Friday, remembering Jackie and President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 stopover with a nod to history, a sense of reverence and a burst of pride.

For former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer, as a boy one of dozens to shake the president’s hand after his energetic downtown parking-lot speech 50 years ago, it was another chance to cheer a Democratic president who didn’t carry Tarrant County in 1960 but definitely charmed it in 1963.

“I’ve heard it said that most of the crowd that day didn’t vote for Kennedy, but I don’t think that’s true,” said Schieffer, 66, a former Texas Rangers executive and the younger brother of CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

On video from 1963 news film, thunderous cheers echoed for Kennedy and also for then-U.S. Rep. Jim Wright inside the ballroom of what is now the Hilton Fort Worth.

Wright, 90, beamed at the video, then gave a fresh stemwinder of a speech about how thrilled Kennedy was with Fort Worth and the city’s role in defending America’s freedom and independence.

“Jim was really one of the stars of the show that day,” Schieffer said, “and he wanted Kennedy to come on outside and see more people.”

Which is how Schieffer, then 16, and some Arlington Heights High School friends shook the president’s hand.

Inside the hotel, Trinity Valley School student and future U.S. Rep. Roger Williams had staked out the Eighth Street door, waiting for Kennedy to make good on a promise to his car dealer father.

“Dad was a Republican, but he loaned the cars for the [Fort Worth and River Oaks] motorcade as long as we got to meet the president,” Williams said after joining Mayor Betsy Price at dawn for the solumn wreath-laying at the JFK Tribute statue.

“When he came out for the speech, we were right by the door. I was the last person to shake his hand before the speech.”

Williams, then 14, remembers noticing Kennedy’s black, capped-toe shoes.

“When we heard the news later, I was stunned. This was the president — and I’d just shook his hand!”

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, in 2002 the runner-up to Nancy Pelosi for House Minority Leader, noted the large number of lawmakers from his generation.

“Kennedy inspired people my age to go into public service,” said Frost, 71, in 1963 a Paschal High School graduate away at the University of Missouri.

“Kennedy gave young people so much hope. He left behind this whole generation of people who went on to make a difference in both parties.”

They came back Friday to remember a president who came to town on another gray November day, then left us.

And everything he left us.

Bud Kennedy’s column usually appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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