Remembering a Fourth of July Spent with Bobby Kennedy

 

Fourth of July weekend in 1966: I flew to Boise, Idaho, to photograph Bobby Kennedy’s family vacation on the Snake River, called the River of New Return. Life magazine had been given the precise location of the Kennedy campsite, and, lucky for me, the Life photographer Enrico Sarsini and I were on the same plane to Boise. He was a jovial sort and told me to come along with him. I have to admit that after working on London’s extremely competitive Fleet Street I would not have been so generous and would have kept the campsite location to myself.

Bobby seemed not to care that there was one more photographer along as he and his family went about their holiday. Very relaxed and seemingly not structured at all, the entire Kennedy family, along with astronaut John Glenn and Jim Whittaker, the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest, rode the rapids, swam in the cool water of the Snake River, pitched their tents, and brought out the sleeping bags. Bobby, Jr., fearlessly caught a baby rattlesnake, which caused great excitement among the other children.

In the photograph here taken on that family holiday, Bobby is wearing his brother JFK’s bomber jacket. While writing the text for my book R.F.K.: A Photographer’s Journal, I went back to my handwritten diaries from 1966 to ’68 for specific details, and it brought back vivid memories of my time with RFK during his presidential campaign—and of that tragic night in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel, which ended a life and shattered a dream for so many.

I liked Bobby; he was easy to photograph, always amiable, and happy to oblige. It saddens me to think he did not live to see his children and grandchildren grow up and to see their many accomplishments, continuing his legacy of speaking truth to power with equality and compassion for all. To me, that is the greatest tragedy of all. υ