Time Magazine Cover commemorating passing of JFK Jr., copyright TIME magazine
Time Magazine Cover commemorating passing of JFK Jr., copyright TIME magazine

by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter July 1999

I was born just over a year after JFK’s assassination, so my memory of the man is only through history – and my father. Dad was a very devoted fan of JFK, and I remember finding him, on more than one occasion, listening to speeches JFK had made, or reading volumes about the slain president. Once, Dad was crying.

“Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” The question is often asked, and the responder will then fill you in on what a terrible time that was for the country and the impressions that would stay with them forever. For many, November 22, 1963 marked the day America lost its innocence. Camelot could fall. Even the youngest and brightest could be brought down.

Since that time, there have many such senseless tragedies: Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Anwar Sadat, John Lennon, Christa McAuliff and the Challenger crew, Princess Diana. And many others.

And this week, John F. Kennedy Jr., along with his wife and sister-in-law.

Each with their own gifts, some not without controversy, but each making a difference in the world. Some died by acts of violence. Others died needlessly in freak accidents. They all died too young. Too soon.

“Where were you when Challenger blew up?”

“Where were you when Princess Diana died?”

In this age of instant communication, 24 hour news programs and live coverage of everything, we feel somehow linked and moved by people we’ve never met. Witness the unbelievable outpouring of support, flowers and cards when Diana died. This week, look at all the people gathered on the Vineyard, paying last respects to JFK Jr..

I was never enamored by the Kennedy mystique. I’ve never really been a student of politics or history, and I dismiss the notion of the Kennedy “curse.” Acknowledging that the family has had more than its share of tragedy and controversy, they are also fundamentally rooted in contemporary American politics. They are often vilified in the press, but they’ve done great good as well. And several of them – JFK Jr. included, have become American icons.

I’d obviously never met JFK Jr., but read about his accomplishments and generosity, his Bar Exam challenge, and followed his career with passing interest. Yet his death touched me and I wondered, why did it affect me so personally?

Then it hit today, watching the coverage of his burial at sea: He wasn’t finished.

I remembered my best friend David, and how he lost not one but two teenage brothers a decade apart. Both lives had already shown great potential. Both would have made the world a better place. My own father died at 47 – and by coincidence I’m writing this on the 15th anniversary of his death. I could name several more I knew who each died too young. For each, there was much more for them to do.

Yes, JFK Jr. and others like him have far more exciting lives than ours, and accomplish great things we can only imagine doing. Perhaps some would argue that their lives were full even at the early ages they left us. Others may even say that their reckless lives speeded their demise.

But each of these people wasn’t finished. Watching the great outpouring of support for the man many called the crown prince of Camelot, I realized that he would have been a senator one day. And very likely, president. Maybe a very good president. I think so, anyway.

That’s why I mourn a man I never met. May he rest in peace. And may this further example of the brevity and unpredictability of life make each of cherish life and those we love just a little more.

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