Remembering Liz Carpenter and That Day in Dallas

March 25, 2010

As I prepare to join a throng of other friends and admirers of Liz Carpenter at the LBJ Library in Austin tomorrow ( March 26)  for a final memorial salute to this journalisic and political icon, one of many personal memories especially comes alive.

On the morning of November 22, 1963, just hours before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in  Dallas, Liz and I stood together against a back wall of the then-Hotel Texas ballroom in downtown Fort Worth to witness his appearance at a non-political Chamber of Commerce breakfast.  She was there to represent Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to the  media. I had the same role on behalf of Texas Governor John B. Connally,  host for Kennedy’s Texas tour.  The President  and other guests already were  in the room, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the other star attraction, was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you think she will show ?” Liz asked me.  “Are you kidding?”, I replied, confident in the JFK team’s sense of drama.  ” She will make her own grand entrance.”   Sure enough, moments later, Jackie radiantly appeared through the door in  the pink dress and pillbax hat that were to become tragically engraved  in public memory  later in the day. Upon her arrival, the President offered the quip “It takes Jackie a bit longer than Lyndon and me to get ready, but then  she looks a lot better….”   The crowd roared.

Little did either of us dream during that lighthearted  interlude that it was only a matter of hours until  Liz would be called upon to write the heartbreaking statement that Johnson would make to the nation as he assumed the presidency following the tragedy.

Liz was a force of nature to all who met and knew her, an indomitable voice of authority and passion in the intertwined  worlds of journalism and politics.  It was impossible to ignore her, and simply easier to accede to her will. Her devotion and drive have for decades been a primary force in keeping the Johnson flame burning in the public mind– for the  President , for Lady Bird Johnson and for other members of the family.  She leaves a proud mark on Texas and U.S. political history.

–Julian Read

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