Thursday, November 21, 2013 —
Darkness from a closed box failed to keep 50 years of time from yellowing the pages. It’s only in November of every year that the publications emerge from solitude. After all, the personal collection brings annual sadness for one Stanly County attorney.
Most everyone will recall where they were 50 years ago Friday, or Nov. 22, 1963, when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Charles Brown clearly remembers where he was that day.
A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brown was busy taking a practice exam for law school when a friend came to retrieve him to watch a monumental event unfold on national television, he recalls. Brown remained committed to the test that would prepare his life’s work.
His friend returned two more times before Brown finally joined the swelling crowd of students in the television room where everyone remained gripped to the black and white set with a rabbit-ear antenna. By then all had learned that Kennedy had been fatally wounded while in a motorcade in Dallas.
Brown’s voice cracks and his eyes well with tears as he recalls the events of that tragic day.
“That was my president,” Brown said.
He and his friend, another UNC law school student who later became a North Carolina governor — Jim Hunt, walked to a cafe on Franklin Street where they remained glued to a television until late into the night.
Ironically, the man who millions watched pronounce that Kennedy had indeed died as a result of the shooting also had Stanly County ties.
C. Jack Price, the hospital administrator at Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was transported after the shooting, had also served as the adminsitrator at then Stanly County Hospital from 1955-62, according to hospital records.
“(Parks) said he and another man were working on the (Parkland) hospital’s annual budget when everything went down,” said Ben Jolly, a physician liason at Stanly Regional Medical Center.
Jolly said he had planned to write about Price’s account of the tragic events in Dallas, even talking with Price about further discussing the matter in more detail.
“He said that would be fine,” Jolly said.
“Unfortunately, he died before we had a chance to have that conversation.”
Price, who later became president of the Texas Hospital Association in the 1970s, died in 2012 after retiring to Florida.
In 1960, as a college freshman, Brown campaigned for Kennedy, working the rural landscape off N.C. 70 in Mebane.
“Folks would say, ‘But, he’s Catholic,’ ” Brown recalled the pitch to the Protestant-rich South.
“And I’d say, ‘he’s an American and a war hero. He has vision and vitality.’”
Brown still wears the 1960 campaign pin on the lapel of his suit during his time of reflection. He proudly talks about how Kennedy stormed through the primaries en route to his eventual presidency.
It was first as a high school senior that Brown began to idolize Kennedy’s political leanings.
No stranger to government and politics, Brown’s youth included healthy debates at the family’s nightly dinner table.
Brown shows off a scar above his thumb he suffered from hanging campaign posters for Harry S. Truman in 1948.
“Democrats have a passion for taking care of people,” said Brown about his political persuasion.
“Commitment to education has been strong in my family.”
In 1960, Brown attended a Kennedy rally at the campus of N.C. State.
A year later on Oct. 12, University Day for UNC alumni and students, Kennedy was the keynote speaker before a crowd of 32,000, more than six times the number of students then enrolled at the school.
“It was an extraordinary day,” Brown said.
“John F. Kennedy and Gov. Terry Sanford — my two heroes — at the podium together. With John F. Kennedy as our president and Terry Sanford as our governor, the light couldn’t be any brighter and the air any clearer.”
Brown weaves in and out of sadness at the memories amid thoughts of what could have been.
“The world changed for so many of us,” Brown said.
“We were thrown unwillingly into a sea of uncertainty.”
Brown doesn’t dwell into conspiracy talk about whether Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, acted alone or if others were involved.
“I want to believe he was a lone gunman and not some conspiracy of our government taking the life of our president,” Brown said.
Details of Kennedy’s assasination later made its way into Brown’s law classes. A criminal law professor challenged his students about whether slain Dallas police officer J.D. Tippet had probable cause to question Oswald about Kennedy’s slaying.
Brown not only recalls where he was when he learned Kennedy had been killed. He vividly recalls where he was three days later, Nov. 25, 1963.
Hunt saved two seats on a chartered bus from Raleigh to Washington, D.C. Brown and his older brother, Lane, made the trek to the nation’s capital and attendedKennedy’s funeral.
They stood just outside St. Matthews Cathedral, arms length from a number of the 91 heads of state that filed in and out of the church.
“Sargent Shriver (Kennedy’s brother-in-law) came over and spoke to us and thanked us for coming,” Brown said.
If the occasion wasn’t stressful enough, he received word to contact his colonel about his absence from Air National Guard duty, which was on national alert in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination. Unknowingly, Brown was AWOL and ordered to return to duty within 30 minutes.
“I told him that wasn’t going to happen,” Brown said.
When news of his whereabouts still didn’t soften the colonel, Brown tried another approach.
“I then told him that I was at the funeral representing the 263rd Air National Guard,” he said.
That didn’t fly either. Instead, the colonel demanded that Brown bring proof that he was in Washington for the funeral.
He supplied the colonel a copy of The Washington Post detailing the events of the funeral.
That newspaper is among several from around the country that is part of his Kennedy collection.
“Every November I get my box out,” Brown said.
Call Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.