By Jeff Jones, Senate 1964
Jeff was a Page in the United States Senate on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot. He describes the events of that day:
The Senate was debating the Library Services Act, and I was seated on the steps leading to the rostrum in the Senate Chamber. It was about 1:30 PM. The private line from the Democratic Cloakroom rang and I answered. There was an urgent phone call for Senate Mansfield, the Majority Leader, from Bill Tyson in the Senate Press Gallery in booth number 2. I found the Leader and took him to the phone. He listened for a few seconds and a look of horror covered his face as he moaned, “Oh, no.” He looked up at me and ordered, “Get Dirksen in here, quick.” I rushed from the Cloakroom unto the Floor in search of the Minority Leader just in time to see Senator Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had been presiding, hurriedly leave the Chamber. I knew then that something had happened to the President. I thought, “He’s in Texas. What could have happened? Probably an airplane accident.”
I continued to look for Senator Dirksen – the Republican Cloakroom, his Capitol office – but he was no place to be found, so I returned to the Chamber. Then I was told the shocking truth – President Kennedy had been shot. “The President of the United States, the most civilized nation in the world – shot. Things like that don’t happen anymore. It’s impossible.” As the news spread around the Capitol, Senators began to come to the Floor. Senator Wayne Morse (R-Oregon) suggested the absence of a quorum and everyone stood there in amazement and disbelief.
After the first shock had passed, the quorum call was rescinded and Senator Mansfield moved that the Senate recess subject to the call of the chair. After a brief recess the session reconvened, and the Chaplain of the Senate, the Reverend Fredrick Brown Harris, offered a prayer. Following the prayer the Senate adjourned until noon the following Monday.
We then went to the Cloakroom to listen to the radio reports of the shooting and the condition of the President. At that time we knew that he was either dead or dying in the emergency room of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. As the reports came over the radio the Cloakroom became more and more a lifeless room. No one talked. Few moved. Finally the words we had been expecting but praying would not come were uttered by the radio announcer: “The President is dead . . . .”
When the Senate adjourned that day, I was cleaning up the presiding officer’s desk and noticed a pad on which Senator Kennedy had been doodling and writing notes just prior to receiving the news that his brother had been shot. I picked up the paper and kept it in a scrapbook until August 2015, when I donated it to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Jeff was sponsored by Sen. John Pastore (D-R.I.). After his Page service he went to Brown University, followed by seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. He served local churches and on the national staff of the American Baptist Churches. He retired in July 2015, following 10 years on the faculty of Andover Newton. He lives in Plymouth, Mass.