Current Tea Party congressman was one of last to shake Kennedy’s hand
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Texas Republican Congressman Roger Williams was especially stunned as he sat in school on November 22, 1963, and heard President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Earlier that morning, he stood outside the Fort Worth Hotel with his mother and shook the President’s hand right before he got on a plane and flew to Dallas.
“I literally was the last person to shake his hand as he left the hotel,” Williams told CNN. He was 14 years old at the time.
Now a 64-year-old freshman member of the House of Representatives, Williams sat in his Capitol Hill office on Wednesday and recounted in vivid detail the day he said he would never forget, and a moment that would later spark his own interest in public service.
“It was pouring rain, it was cold on November 22nd,” Williams said, describing the morning he headed to a breakfast for the President and the first lady at the Fort Worth Hotel. Williams and his mother sat inside the ballroom with 1,000 others. He told CNN he recalls seeing Mrs. Kennedy’s “bright pink suit” and listening to the President talk about the economy, the need for a strong military, and his idea for a man to reach the moon.
His father, Jack Williams, an owner of car dealerships, was asked by his friend Jim Wright, the Democratic congressman from the area, to supply several cars for the President’s motorcade for his visit to Fort Worth. In return for his help, Williams’ father asked Wright if his wife and son could meet the President.
After the speech, he and his mother were approached by someone and ushered to the front of the hotel where Jacqueline Kennedy emerged .
“She came around the corner in that pink dress and she shook my mother’s hand and shook my hand and stood right next to me.” Williams said.
But then the “moment:” Williams says the President appeared, took a puff of his cigar, discarded it, and then grasped his mother’s hand and turned to him.
“He came to me and shook my hand and did not let it go, and looked back at my mother and said ‘It was a pleasure to meet your son.’ ” Kennedy then left for Dallas.
Williams remembers wanting to know what kind of shoes the President of the United States would wear, and inspected them that morning, describing them as “black cat toe shoes.”
After he met Kennedy, his mother took him to school. Later as he sat in Latin class, the principal handed his teacher a note, and Williams watched as his teacher’s head fell to his desk and he wept.
“I couldn’t fathom it frankly because I had just seen him an hour and half ago,” Williams said.
The Texas Republican said after Kennedy was killed “the world changed.” His generation was never the same and the country shifted from a “happy society” to one that experienced a series of events like the shootings at Kent State and the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
An emotional Williams told CNN, “John Kennedy — he touched my heart and soul.”
Though he’s now an ideological opposite of the Democratic president he praised and admired, Williams said meeting Kennedy was part of his journey to run for office.
“It eventually empowered me to do something for my country, like he did,” recalling Kennedy’s famous line from his inauguration speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Williams played baseball for the Atlanta Braves after college. But after an injury, he followed his father into the car business, running a string of dealerships in Texas. He became involved in politics when George W. Bush served as governor of Texas. He later served as Texas secretary of state under Gov. Rick Perry.
He admits his conservative leanings differ from JFK’s, but Williams believes he has a lot in common politically with things Kennedy pushed in office, citing tax cuts, a strong military, and a message that the U.S. is the dominant world power.
Kennedy’s great nephew, Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III, was elected in the same class as Williams. The Congressman told CNN he’s talked to Kennedy about other experiences but never what it was like to meet his great uncle that day 50 years ago.
After telling his story of November 22, 1963, he said, “I think I’m going to reach out to him and just kind of let him know my story.”