Times Past

Death of President Kennedy adds sad note to joyous wedding

“We interrupt this program . . .”

I was typing a paper for a research seminar. The paper wasn’t due until early December, but I needed to finish it by the weekend. Liz and I were to be married the following Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, 50 years ago.

The Arthur Godfrey show was on San Francisco’s radio station KCBS. The first news came over the air that President Kennedy and Governor Connolly had “apparently” been shot in Dallas.

The news that followed that announcement changed America forever.

We drove up to Berkeley for the regular 5:30 p.m. Mass at the Newman Hall. The upstairs chapel only held about 300. Cal students and faculty packed the building, along the stairs and into the lobby and library.

What would have been Liz’s “co-ed” bridal shower that Friday evening turned into a wake for President Kennedy. My good friend, Father Joe O’Looney, who was to marry us the following Thursday met us at the door.

Father Joe came from Irish working class roots. His father owned the Lone Star Bar on San Francisco’s Clement Street. He was proud of Jack Kennedy. The assassination hit him especially hard. He and I drank in one room will Liz and her bridesmaid and friends wept in the other.

The next two days passed by in a fog of disbelief as we witnessed Dallas strip club owner Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television. I remember commenting to Liz that the conspiracy thesis starts right now.

We knew that there were extremists in Dallas. Sen. Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird had been spat upon there in 1960 before he was elected vice president. On Oct. 25, 1963, United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been spat upon and struck by a picket sign carrier in Dallas. On the day of the assassination three Dallas businessmen, calling themselves “THE AMERICAN FACT-FINDING COMMITTEE,” took out an ominous, black-bordered ad in the Dallas Morning News titled “Welcome to Dallas, Mr. Kennedy.”

It was and still is a warning to all of us about extremism in America’s political life.

The following Monday, we had two funerals. One was the president’s via television. The other was for one of Liz’s students at Notre Dame High in San Jose. The young lady was thrown from a car during an accident. The driver was unharmed because she was wearing a seatbelt.

Our wedding was held in the very traditional St. Thomas Aquinas chapel in the Tudor style Newman Hall across from UC’s Founders Rock. Father Joe said the Mass in Latin facing the altar. A little over a year later, Liz’s bridesmaid, Barbara Sena, was married by Father Joe in the same chapel. By that time, Father Joe was able to face the congregation and the liturgy was in English. Change was coming to even “unchangeable” Holy Mother Church.

Our wedding was joyous, but couldn’t help being touched by the tragedy of the week before. Theologian Clayton Barbeau and a few others wore black armbands.

There were touches of humor. Liz and I made a racket as we drove our tiny Corvair with tin cans tied to it along the holiday empty Piedmont Drive past Cal Memorial Stadium and International House. Some things of the “old order” were still with us.

Today, we can’t go back to Newman Hall where we were married in 1963. The university wanted the site and bulldozed the beautiful Bernard Maybeck building to construct a multi-level parking lot. Maybeck was Julia Morgan’s mentor. Today’s preservation laws might have saved the building.

But our marriage, with the help of lots of prayers and good friends, has survived.