Robert Morgenthau, now 94 who served as Manhattan district attorney for 35 years, was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1963. He and his chief assistant, Silvio Mollo, had traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend a conference on organized crime, and stopped by Hickory Hill, the McLean, Va., home of the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, which had been sold to him by his brother, John F. Kennedy, for lunch on Nov. 22. The three were eating tuna fish sandwiches and clam chowder with Robert by the swimming pool when suddenly, "somebody came over and told him that (J. Edgar) Hoover was on the phone. At the same time -- within 10 or 15 seconds -- there was a housepainter who had a little hand held radio who came up."
Robert jumped up and grabbed the phone on the pool house wall, Morgenthau recounted, and "clapped a hand over his mouth. He stood there like that for about 60 seconds. He came back and said, "Jack's been shot in Dallas.'"
Robert excused himself to go to his second floor office in his historic home," and Silvio and I went to the television room. We didn't want to leave him. But in 10 minutes, he came back in and said, 'Jack is dead.' We were just in shock. We just couldn't believe what we were hearing. Then he got up and walked out and left us. We went back to the Mayflower Hotel and checked in and I called the office, thinking then, that was the most important thing because we didn't know what was involved. I wanted to get to the office just in case anything happened."
Kennedy and Morgenthau, both from prominent and influential families, had been friends for years and the president had given Morgenthau his appointment. Both, too, had served bravely in the U.S. Navy, which deepened their relationship. "We were both World War II veterans and he brought a whole generation of veterans into public service. We had made so much progress in civil rights and integrating the University of Alabama," he recalled. The death of Kennedy, said Morgenthau, was "just a tremendous blow. He was very warm, very open, and highly intelligent. He was a great leader."
Morgenthau declined to speculate how history might have unfurled had Kennedy lived, but is sure "he would have continued enforcing the civil rights laws. I think it all would have gone a little more quickly had he been around."
(Sheila Anne Feeney)