50 Years Ago, Cambridge Mourned a 'Son of Harvard'

As is often true of the Friday before Harvard-Yale—especially when The Game is in New Haven—Nov. 22, 1963, was as much a getaway day at Harvard as anything else.

“[T]here was a high buoyant feeling for life in general,” John Donnelly, Jr. ’64 said. “The Game had a strong following—there was a lot of spirit in those days.”

At the offices of The Crimson, Managing Editor Bruce L. Paisner ’64 was meeting with his lieutenants to brainstorm stories for the Harvard-Yale edition of the paper, one of the most read editions of the year.

“It was a very slow news day,” Paisner remembered of that Friday. “We were sitting there thinking ,‘What are we going to put in this paper?’ [We were] trying to think of a worthy story for The Game.”

But for Paisner, the idea that Nov. 22 would be a “slow” day of news, or that The Game would dominate weekend headlines, were a shattered by a knock on the door of The Crimson.

“Somebody came running in off the street and said, ‘Have you heard that the President’s been shot?’” Paisner recalled. “Well, actually we hadn’t.”

With scraps of information compiled from Associated Press reports and Walter Cronkite’s CBS News broadcast, Paisner and his editors pieced together a story. The headline, like many that day, was simple: “KENNEDY ASSASSINATED.”

A PERSONAL CONNECTION

The news of the president’s death was a crushing blow to a campus that felt a unique kinship with the young leader.

The President's Gaze
President John F. Kennedy '40 photographed in Boston by The Crimson on Saturday, October 19, 1963, just a month before he was assassinated. The photograph ran on page two of the Saturday, November 23, 1963, issue of The Crimson.

“The relationship between the Kennedy administration and Harvard was very special because there were so many connections between Harvard and the administration that sometimes it seemed that the White House was an extension of the Yard,” Joseph M. Russin ’64, a former Crimson editor, remembered.

Paisner recalled that many students and professors thought of Kennedy as a Harvard alumnus first and a president second. The Crimson, he added, occasionally identified him on first reference as “John F. Kennedy ’40, President of the United States.”

Even after his ascent to the White House, Kennedy maintained strong Harvard ties, summoning numerous Harvard faculty to Washington serve as presidential advisors. He also continued to serve on the University’s Board of Overseers.

Many students remember seeing him walk through Harvard Yard on his way to and from meetings, and, just four weeks before his death, Kennedy appeared in Harvard Stadium, where he watched Harvard tie Columbia on October 19, 1963.

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