Doug Robinson: Where were you when JFK was shot?

Published: Monday, Nov. 18 2013 10:20 p.m. MST

Dan Jones, pollster and political science professor — I was teaching class at Bountiful High. It was about noon. A young man named Scott Peterson opened the door and said, “Mr. Jones, the president has been shot.” And I said, “Scott, we don’t kid about things like that.” We turned on a TV in class and watched Walter Cronkite say the president had died. It was a very somber thing. I had met President Kennedy when he was campaigning in 1960. I taught night classes at the University of Utah and had a young man named John B. Rice in my class. His father was a contributor to the Kennedys, and they had a reception at their home and I got invited and met JFK. I went to the Tabernacle later and heard him speak. I also went to lunch with Teddy Kennedy, who was in charge of the Rocky Mountain area for his brother’s campaign. So I had some personal connections. It was really hard to hear of the assassination.

Ross Peterson, history professor — I was between classes at Utah State and stopped at a pay phone on the first floor of the Main Building. I called my (fiancé) to see how she was doing. She told me President Kennedy had been shot. I said, “You’re kidding me!” She said, “Why would I do that?” Not many people had TVs in those days. We ran to student center, where they rolled out an old black-and-white TV. We saw them announce the president had died. It was totally silent. People shaking their heads, but not saying anything. The next week was numbing. It was traumatic that this young president, who had a young wife and children, could be shot. It’s strange: I’m teaching about the 1960s now, and I’m teaching this (the assassination).

Jake Garn, former U.S. senator — I heard about it when I was walking to my office. I was on Main Street, between about Second and Third South. I overheard a conversation on the street as I was walking by. The president had been shot. I was shocked. You just don’t anticipate hearing something like that. I had some meetings after that and it was discussed — did you hear what happened? Years later I would serve as a senator with (Kennedy’s) brother Ted.

Gail Miller, businesswoman/philanthropist — I had just finished class at the U. and got on the bus to go to work at the telephone company. Somebody announced it on the bus, and there was this huge gasp. No one could believe it. You couldn’t talk to your co-workers at the telephone company because we all wore headsets, but at break time we talked about it. It took a few days for it to set it. When we got home we were glued to the TV. It was disbelief — how could this be? How could the world be that cruel? Why would someone do it when he was so beloved. I adored him. I thought the world was in good hands.

LaVar Christensen, state legislator — I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Stull’s class. Everything just stopped. The doors opened and they wheeled in a black-and-white TV, and we sat there and watched it. Nothing else mattered. That’s why you remember where you were. It was unprecedented. There was just silence, everyone alone with his thoughts. The very fact that we can remember so vividly that moment tells you the depth of children’s thoughts. A little part of me died that day. My sense of trust and safety — it just never came back.

Pamela Atkinson, community advocate — I was walking across the campus at San Francisco City College and I heard some people talking. The president had been shot. Shivers ran down my spine. It was so quiet; it was eerie. The only sound you heard was crying. Word spread. Strangers were hugging. This tragedy was bringing people together. I just had a shiver run down my back as I flash back to that time. For many years, when I don’t have a camera, I take what I call memory camera shots — I blink my eyes as if I am taking a picture so I can remember it. I did it then. What I see (in that mental photo) is the campus and these small groups of people and everything coming to a standstill and I hear people crying. Then I realize some of that was coming from me and from the people with whom I was standing. It was surreal. The only other time I felt that was 9/11.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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