SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Crossed Paths: The Kennedy's

By Bob Weaver 2003

It would be difficult to ignore the Kennedy's, like them or not.

They have crossed my path on several occasions, with little effort on my part. They have been out there in this world of ours, doing things.

They have long stood for social justice and the working people of America.

It was Christmas eve in 1985, a cold and dismal evening, that I took my five-year-old son Jon to the firehouse at Albright, Preston County, a town virtually destroyed by the thousand year flood along the Cheat River.

It washed away most of the homes, even changing the course of the ancient river.

The Kennedy family had come to the tiny village to offer solace.

A month before we stood on the hill near our home in Kingwood and watched houses being lifted from their foundations to float over the Albright bridge.

It was a devastating event for West Virginia, lives lost, with homes and communities destroyed.

I tried to help my son understand who they were, the Kennedy folks.

I told him about the assassination of JFK, and that we would be meeting Sen. Ted Kennedy, his brother, that several Kennedy kids would be there.

I told Jon about their accomplishments, tragedies and star-crossed lives. At age 5 he was not impressed.

I had my new video camera, wanting to get Jon on tape with the famous bunch.

A crowd of at least 200 crammed into the tiny firehouse with network TV cameras and news reporters everywhere.

Sen. Kennedy said, "We have come this Christmas eve, our family, to express our sorrow for the suffering of the people of Preston County and West Virginia, their losses and future struggles, hoping they come back from this disaster."

Now, I know that Ted Kennedy is a political animal, and we could spend time questioning his motives or whether we like his politics.

But he came.

His family came this Christmas eve.

After the talk, Sen. Kennedy walked around and mixed with the people, along with the boys and other members of their extended family.

I worked my way closer to the senator, video camera in hand, with tape rolling.

Jon stood in front of the senator, who bent down and ask him, "What can I do for you, young man?"

After which Jon replied, "Do you have a quarter for a Coke?"

He didn't.

It was several years later, 1994, that Dianne, Jon and I went to Washington, DC. Jon was 14, and he wanted to go to Arlington National Cemetery and the Kennedy graves.

When we arrived, the security people had roped off the Kennedy area, and we were told that the Kennedy family was arriving to place flowers on Robert Kennedy's grave.

The clan came, about twenty five, with a priest and said prayers.

Even then, Ted Kennedy broke away from the family and walked toward us and the sightseers to say hello and shake hands, apologizing for having make us wait.

I think it was about 1990, while in Boston for a meeting, a bronze statue of JFK was dedicated by his wife, Jackie.

I tried by the hardest to get close, but tens of thousands turned out, and I returned to the hotel to watch, several blocks away.

Those Kennedy's always drew a crowd.

But it was in 1960 they came to WV for the primary, the defining moment in JFK's political career.

John Kennedy walked the streets of Spencer in a pouring rain, buying a hat in a Spencer department store and eating a burger at the Shamrock.

It was in front of the pool hall I met JFK face-to-face. I shook his hand and connected for a few moments with his powerful charisma.

It was difficult not to meet the Kennedy's in 1960 during the campaign.

They came to Calhoun County, holding a rally at the county's most famous intersection, the "Y" at Arnoldsburg.

Bobby Kennedy came to Grantsville and met with the late Lorentz Carr Hamilton in 1960. They sat on porch swing at the Rainbow Hotel, and talked about how Kennedy, the Catholic, could carry Calhoun.

Part of that visit, according to Hamilton, was to provide vote-buying money, a common practice in WV's 55 counties.

A politician, at that time, would not run without vote-buying.

RFK handed the cash to Hamilton.

Both JFK and RFK would be assassinated, with Sen. Ted Kennedy left to carry the political mantle of the famous family.

Postscript 2007: I have now spent some time rubbing elbows with Bobby Kennedy, Jr. who has been in West Virginia challenging the devastating practices of King Coal to our mountains, streams and health of our residents.

Not unlike his uncles and his father, his passions run deep, long persevering, straight-forward and heart-felt, connected to those causes and ideals that some of us value. He's the real deal.