50 years on Kennedy can still have an impact

Robert Francis


The hat. So many people mention the hat. I’m speaking of the Shady Oaks Country Club hat that President John F. Kennedy did not put on in his visit to Fort Worth on Nov. 22, 1963. Don Woodard, our resident Business Press raconteur, remembers the fact that Kennedy was given the hat at the Fort Worth Chamber breakfast ($2.50 a plate by the way, quite a deal). In the National Geographic channel’s special on Kennedy’s last hours, narrated by Fort Worth native Bill Paxton, the film shows Kennedy taking the hat and then, with the comic timing of Charlie Chaplin, appear to consider wearing it, then putting it away as the crowd chants, “Put it on, put it on.” It’s almost as if people feel that if Kennedy had placed that hat on his head the rest of the day would not have played out so tragically. But that was not who Kennedy was and he knew it. I think many of us have personal reactions to that day. Our news editor, Bill Thompson, no fan of the philosophical bent of the Kennedy administration, acknowledges that the euphoric feelings engendered by President Kennedy and the first lady were authentic and “real,” no matter if the idea of a modern Camelot was a construct built after the fact. As I have recounted before I was only 8 years old when JFK came to town. More than that, I was hardly the most politically aware of 8 year olds. One of my friends, Ray Wynn, was, often checking the skies whenever a jet would fly towards the then-Carswell Air Force Base, and saying “I don’t think that’s one of ours.” Then, when we saw no tell-tale mushroom cloud on the horizon, we’d return to whatever sport we were struggling to master. So I didn’t think I would have any real emotional connection to much of this parade of nostalgia and remembrance, as valuable as I think it is. That was the case, anyway, until I went to a press preview of Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. As I viewed the exhibit I came across one painting that had hung in Kennedy’s hotel room on Nov. 22, 1963, and I had one of those Gestalt moments. I froze, realizing that without that painting, I might not be standing there, in front of it, editor of the Business Press, in 2013. This surreal Back to the Future time-warp moment courtesy of Franz Kline’s Study for Accent Grave. Kline, if you don’t know him, was an abstract impressionist who painted generally with large swaths of black paint on white backgrounds. At the time, this painting belonged to the Weiner family in Fort Worth and was loaned to the group of merry Fort Worth art patrons creating a mini-museum for the visiting president and his art-loving wife. The painting impacted me because it had impacted a mentor of mine many years ago, F. Gordon Johnston, a Fort Worth artist and musician. As a young man Gordon had rolled with the west side moneyed crowd and had seen this painting, likely in the Weiner family home. I had never seen it except in books. That painting had pulled him away from painting flowers and babbling brooks toward painting bold abstract impressionism-inspired works. Now, here it was staring me in the face and it simultaneously took me back to 1963, when the president saw it, to 1974 when Gordon told me about it and to the president. Gordon was part of a group that was an offshoot of the Fort Worth Circle school of artists that included Lia Cuilty, Veronica Helfensteller, Marjorie Johnson and Bror Utter. Besides being an artist, Gordon was a musician and a writer. I was a struggling student, wanna-be writer and musician. Gordon was kind enough to share a great deal of knowledge of the creative process with me and I soaked it up like a thirsty man lost in the desert. I still have some of his paintings, great abstract impressionist pieces, but his greatest gift was sharing his knowledge and giving me the confidence to continue on whatever path I was on. That’s why I knew that without that painting, I would not be writing this today. So here we are, 50 years later, and that day can still have an impact when you least expect it.

In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at rfrancis@bizpress.net.