— By SALLY SEXTON
The name Jim Wright is known in wide political circles, from the Metroplex all the way to Washington D.C.
The Weatherford College alumni and former Weatherford mayor, who was a member of the House of Representatives, as well as Speaker of the House from 1967-1989, served under eight presidents in total.
But it was while serving under John F. Kennedy in 1963 that one incident forever changed his world — the assassination of JFK.
“It was a marvelous day in Fort Worth,” Wright, now 90, said of the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, when he greeted Kennedy in Fort Worth, one of his many stops in Texas as he prepared for his next presidential campaign. “It was an emotional high seeing our president, hearing him and his speech at the [Fort Worth] Chamber of Commerce breakfast. There was optimism and upbeat hope.”
According to Wright, Kennedy expressed his appreciation of the contributions from Fort Worth and Dallas in support of its safety and security, touching on the history of Fort Worth itself.
“He followed the history of Fort Worth during World War I and II, and the production of the first around-the-world planes, like the B-24s and the B-26s,” Wright said. “The General Dynamics plan had recently won a competition [against Boeing] to be the company to build some of our planes, so everybody was in a really high mood. In those days, this was a big boost for our economy.”
Following the breakfast, Wright, Kennedy, Texas Gov. John Connally and others hopped aboard Air Force One to head on to Dallas for the 13-minute flight from Carswell Air Force Base to Love Field.
“While on board, the president asked Gov. Connally and myself to come and sit with him in his private quarters,” Wright said. “He asked us to explain for him the pushes that led to the development of Fort Worth and Dallas and why the two towns were are different as they were.
“We were doing our best to tell him what we knew and what we could put together on that subject. Shortly after when the plane landed, the president looked at us and said, ‘We must consider this conversation this afternoon on the way to Austin.’”
Unbeknownst to both parties, it would be the last conversation Wright and Kennedy would have.
“That day was an emotional roller coaster,” Wright recalled. “Before it was over, it had us all down in the lowest level of despondency.”
Traveling in the sixth car in the presidential motorcade headed through downtown Dallas, Wright followed the others down the 10-mile route through downtown Dallas, heading to the Trade Mart, where the president was to speak at a luncheon.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout of all the people on the streets,” Wright said. “It was a great welcome from a multitude of people through the streets of Dallas.”
Wright saw the president’s car turn off onto Elm Street and, just a few minutes later, heard the first gunshot.
“My first instinct was that it was the backfire of a car,” he said. “And then I heard the second one and I said, “Doggone it, some goofy guy is trying to fire a 21-gun salute!’ But when I heard the third shot, I realized that the cadence was just off so I knew it wasn’t that.”
At the time, Wright’s car had passed beneath the window of which Lee Harvey Oswald was said to be standing with his gun.
“I didn’t see him, but there were several others in the motorcade who claimed he was leaning out with the rifle in his hands,” Wright said.
As Wright’s car headed toward the freeway and to the scene of the shooting, he saw a secret serviceman running beside the president’s car, which was carrying JFK, wife Jackie and Connally, and dive inside to push the president down.
“Then the car shot forward, and I saw Ms. Kennedy leaning against the backseat looking out of the back of the car,” Wright said. “The secret serviceman was pulling her back into the seat and we followed the car to [Parkland Hospital.]
“When we got there, I saw people helping carry the president inside and also helping Connally, who had been shot also.”
A few minutes later, someone came out to announce that Kennedy had passed.
“That was a shock to my nervous system,” Wright said. “It was really a terrible thing, knowing that the president was dead. Very, very depressing.”
Recalling the conversation he, Connally and Kennedy had less than 30 minutes before stunned Wright even more.
“A man came up to me with a microphone and wanted me to make a comment, but I just couldn’t express myself,” he said. “I’ve been in war, been overseas, been in combat missions, and that was bad, but something about this was just devastating.
“I’ve never experienced anything quite like that.”
Three days later, a Requiem Mass was held for Kennedy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., of which Wright attended.
“He was so vivacious and full of life and upbeat. He truly was a beloved president,” Wright said. “I truly believe that Kennedy may have been the most inspirational of all of our presidents.
“It’s very hard to believe that it has been 50 years.”