Weatherford Democrat

November 18, 2013

Parker County reflects on Kennedy assassination

November 22, 1963


Weatherford Democrat

— By JUDY SHERIDAN

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963, lives on in the memory of older Parker County residents, many of whom remember where they were, how the shocking news was delivered, their reactions and those of others.

Aledo ISD Superintendent Dr. Derek Citty, not yet 4 years old, was playing with Lincoln logs on the living room floor when the news broke.

“I remember my mom being really upset and crying,” he emailed. “I also remember the neighbors getting together that evening and many of them being really emotional.”

Ride for Heroes co-founder Gordon Robertson was 10 and living in Aurora, Illinois.

“I think we were let out of school,” he said. “I remember going home and watching television all day and not quite understanding it all.”

Aledo businessman Doyle Moss had just finished playing in a band concert at Pioneer Middle School in Sherman.

“They told us he had been shot and later, at school, announced he had been killed,” he said. “A president being shot was unheard of then.”

Faith Presbyterian Church pastor Jim Witherow was 12. He had just moved from Washington, D.C., to a small community outside Richmond, Va., much like Aledo.

“We got news of it in school,” he said, “and I was struck by the reactions of the other kids. Most of them were celebrating. That was the political bent of the community.”

Witherow said Kennedy being Catholic was “a big deal,” and racial tensions were high.

“I think the first school integration ruling happened in Richmond,” he said. “I think Richmond was the earliest in forced busing.”

His neighbor, a fellow student, was angry, Witherow said, probably because of the loss of his security.

“I vividly remember the celebration and the anger,” he said. “I saw the images on TV — the solemnity of that — and I was aware that something profoundly and deeply troubling to our sense of security and country had happened.”

Businessman Jerry Durant, then a senior at Granbury High School, recalls that school was dismissed. “There was nothing on TV except the coverage,” he said. “Everything in Granbury stood still. We were isolated in a rural community, and something like that was unthinkable.”

Annetta resident Dennis Thompson was in his first year of college in Des Moines, Iowa, sitting in a cafeteria, when the news came over the public address system.

“They could have blown the place up it got so quiet,” he said. “They immediately cancelled school until further notice. “When he ran for president, it was such a huge deal that he was a Catholic, where I lived. I think my parents voted for him. He ran a PT boat in World War II, and so did my uncle. For a time they were in the same fleet in the South Pacific, and my uncle had met him several times.”

Bob Patterson, general manager of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, was at Sul Ross University in Alpine. “I didn’t believe it at first; it was very shocking,” he said. “I was concerned about what was going to happen next.”

Father Publius Xuereb, of Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish, was not a U.S. citizen then. He was attending seminary on Malta, an island in the Mediterranean, and heard the news about 8:30 in the evening, after dinner and prayers. “We didn’t know the details, only that he had been shot,” he said. “Everybody was shocked, and we all went to the chapel to spend the rest of the day and night there in personal prayer, Yes, part of that was because he was Catholic.

“We lived in a country where not even the police carried guns; they still don’t,” he said. “For someone to be shot was extremely horrific.”

Aledo Mayor Pro Tem Bill McLeRoy was an idealistic college student at Austin College, having lunch with his friends and listening to the Kennedy processional in Dallas on the radio.

“Walter Cronkite came on and said Kennedy was dead and had been taken to Parkland,” he said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Here was a guy elected after eight years of Nixon and Eisenhower, young, dynamic, someone who could relate to young college students.”

McLeRoy said the beginning of the decade was “a more cheerful world,” an era of launching the moon mission, founding the Peace Corps, and looking out to the world to make it better.

“The right-wing stuff Dallas was blamed for in later years; you didn’t see it on campus,” he said.

McLeRoy recorded the date and time of the assassination in a college textbook, collected newspapers on the event for some time, and later helped start a JFK collection in the Austin College Library.

Some students, he said, got on buses and went to Washington to stand in line and go by the coffin.