Columnist: The Kennedy ‘curse’ — real or imagined?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 5, 2015

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

We all know or have friends who have experienced what we consider to be more than their share of sadness and tragedies.

We wonder how they are able to bounce back without suffering a nervous breakdown or surrendering to despair. What are these people made of? What causes them to keep going, essentially with the resolve of the biblical figure called Job?

Most of us just cave in when a loved one dies and we are faced with the reality that we will no longer be able to communicate with them. The despair over a loss can decimate us so badly that our tears begin to slow us down to the point where we can no longer function.

On a personal note, I can speak with authority when after my mother’s transition to heaven, death visited my family over and over again, taking a father, sister, brother and nephew within a several month period of time.

When you think about human tragedy and the will to continue in the face of incalculable travail, the Kennedy family members are considered as role models by many around the world and, probably, rightfully so.

We all know about the many tragedies which happened to the family of Joseph and Rose Kennedy — two sons assassinated; one son lost in a plane crash during World War II, his 28-year-old sister was also lost in a plane crash during the same period; the career of another son ruined due to his frivolity and an extramarital affair; and one daughter, Rosemary, was hospitalized in 1941 because the father, without the permission of Rose, allowed doctors to perform an experimental lobotomy treatment that failed and left her in a semi-zombie state for the remainder of her life.

The legacy of tragedy, which some called the Kennedy curse, in fact, continued over the years with several of the grandchildren dying, in some cases under horrific circumstances.

Through it all, the Kennedy clan appeared to remain unwavering and unshakable, believing that even though they may experience a surfeit of losses, nothing would cause them to lose their faith in God. Their faith allowed them to triumph over the losses of loved ones, which would weaken and paralyze most of us with grief.

After a brief respite from tragedy, death struck a horrific blow at the very soul of the Kennedy clan.

On July 16, 1999, at the age of 38, John F. Kennedy Jr., the son of a father assassinated during his presidency, was killed, along with his wife and sister-in-law in a plane crash. During the memorial service, his uncle who lost a bid to become president, gave credence to the Kennedy curse when he stated “we dared to think that this John Kennedy would live to comb grey hair … but like his father, he had every gift but length of years.”

I have fond memories of the Kennedy family. Nov. 22, 2015, will mark the 52nd anniversary of former president John F. Kennedy’s death.

I remember seeing the late president as he campaigned for the office through our small town of LaGrange. It seemed like the whole town turned out for his parade.

I did not know a lot about politics back then. I was just a teenager. I quickly learned that when he won the office, blacks became attracted to a friendlier kind of rhetoric coming from the nation’s Capitol.

Kennedy’s assassination, therefore, was like an African-American family member being killed. If you were to visit the homes of blacks in practically any rural area of the south you will conceivably see a picture of the two assassinated Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, immortalized in velvet canvass hanging from their living room walls.

On the day of the president’s assassination, I was walking downtown, in LaGrange. I witnessed some people crying and a few appearing to delight in his being shot.

Most of the people I observed were trying to get home, probably to view the televised accounts of the assassination. I suddenly became afraid. I truly believed that if the president of the United States could be shot and killed, I too, should rush home!

Time just stood still that day. How could you fathom a president in this country being shot? As I was rushing home, there was a very insensitive adult who shouted at me, “hey, boy, the white (n-word) in the white house is dead.” I was just a teenager, and here was this adult being a brave man, frightening a young kid.

As an adult, I have since learned that many of the Kennedys lived recklessly and their propensity for taking risks enhanced the opportunities of the family experiencing tragedies and misfortunes — but were they cursed?

What do you think? Can people truly be cursed?

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at