When my boyfriend said, “You’ll never get near him,” it raised my hackles and heightened my determination. He was coming to Baltimore, on a campaign stop at the Emerson Hotel. Carefully, I chose my outfit for the event: white gloves, pearl earrings, low heels, a green floral print dress with its wide self-belt. Driving my blue Volkswagen convertible, I arrived downtown with my high hopes and a good parking space.

At the age of 18, I was unable to vote, but this candidate sparked an interest in politics that continues to this day. His youth! His intelligence! His glamour! His wife! His family! His humor! His tan! He inspired in me a lifelong yearning for learning. After years of boring Ike and Mamie, this man brought youth and exuberance to the national arena. And boy, did I have youth and exuberance to spare. He inspired me with his words, with his composure, with his humor, with his “gray matter,” which was a favorite phrase of my English teacher. “Girls, read and read and read. Use up that gray matter before it is gone.”

During this exciting time, I began reading newspapers, not novels. I craved information about the election, about the candidate. This led to following national and local events. This led to comparing the candidates, reading both sides of an issue and forming opinions based on facts. Walter Cronkite and CBS News was another source.

On the night of the campaign stop, he arrived looking trim, handsome and tan. I could see him clearly from my second-row seat. Just a pit stop for him, but a magical moment for me. At the end of the speech, the audience rose to their feet and some stood on their chairs. My “youth and exuberance” helped me to do the same thing. They also helped me to reach out to his outstretched hand, with glove off.

My trip home was uneventful, but my boyfriend was amazed with my pluckiness. I began passing out fliers, posting campaign posters, knocking on doors and urging residents to vote. I followed the debates on TV, the convention speeches and, of course, the election. My roommate and I stayed up all night to get the results. We watched the young senator and his pregnant wife being interviewed the following morning, at their Georgetown home. We watched the inauguration, the evening dances, the glitz and the glamour.

This was a time of deep emotions, trust, hope and a celebration of intelligence and creativity. It was a time when voters changed their opinions about candidates by listening and by reading and by conversing with others who were not like-minded. My dad was from the South, and was a Democrat. But, he was anti-Catholic. After the election, he confessed that he had voted for the Catholic candidate. Why? He, too, listened and read and asked questions. My enthusiasm might have encouraged him, too.

In these current troubled days of politics, of the viral spiral of radio and television and internet, there is little rational discourse. The age of innocence is gone. The man who inspired me is gone. After his death, a columnist said to a Kennedy aide, “We’ll never laugh again.” The aide’s rejoinder was, “We’ll laugh again. It’s just that we will never be young again.”

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