“When we think of him, he is without a hat, standing in the wind and the weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the cold and the wind of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger. He died of exposure, but in a way that he would have settled for – in the line of duty, and with his friends and enemies all around, supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather, and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people.”
No one had such vitality of personality—a vitality so superbly disciplined that it sometimes left the impression of cool detachment, but imbuing everything he thought or did with intense concentration and power. He was life-affirming, life-enhancing. When he entered the room, the temperature changed; and he quickened the sensibilities of everyone around him. His curiosity was unlimited. The restless thrust of his mind never abated. He noticed everything, responded to everything, forgot nothing… .
He was a man profoundly in earnest. Yet there was never a moment when his manner was not informal, irreverent, rueful and witty. He took life seriously, but never himself. He cared deeply, but his passion was understatement. No heart ever appeared on his sleeve, though only the unaware could have concluded that this meant there was no heart at all. He mistrusted rhetoric, and he detested histrionics. But the casualness, the dry humor, the sardonic throwaway lines, the cool precision in press conference, the sense of slight distance from emotion, the invariable courtesy and the inextinguishable gaiety—none of this could conceal the profound concern and commitment underneath.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. for The Saturday Evening Post, 1963
The Kennedy children quickly became a source of news and entertainment once in the White House. One day in the early months of her father’s presidency, three-year-old Caroline wandered into a room of members of the press while the rest of her family was upstairs in the Residence. When asked where her father was, she responded, “He’s just sitting up there with his shoes and socks off, doing nothing.” When asked about her mother, she continued, “She’s upstairs in her bathrobe, also doing nothing.”
“After that first operation, he was in bad shape, critical condition for, I think, three weeks. They had to give him the Last Rites while Jackie stood there. His face was pale and swollen, his breathing heavy and irregular. I remember Jackie placing her hand on his forehead and saying, ‘Help him, Mother of God. Oh, help him.’”
… Afterward, slumping into a plastic chair in the hospital corridor, she said to Lem Billings, “What if Jack can’t take all of this? What if we lose him?”
Billings put his hand on her shoulder. “Listen, he’s too goddamn stubborn, Jackie,” he told her with a smile. “I’ve known him too long to think otherwise. He’s not going anywhere. I promise you that.”
Jackie looked up at her husband’s good friend with tears in her eyes. “If I ever lose him, Lem, I’ll die,” she said, and she seemed to really mean it.