50 years later, Fort Worth native with front-row seat remembers JFK visit

Jackie and John F. Kennedy are introduced at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where he gave his final speech.
Jackie and John F. Kennedy are introduced at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where he gave his final speech. UTA Special Collections/Star-Telegram Collection

Sixty years removed from the old Fort Worth Press, Julian Read is still on the big story.

Of any news story in our history, it remains the biggest: the 1963 visit and later assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Read was here as Gov. John B. Connally’s press secretary.

For the next month, Read will be everywhere.

At 86, the retired Austin advertising executive is co-hosting previews of the National Geographic Channel documentary “JFK: The Final Hours,” airing Nov. 8, while promoting his own new book.

“This is my back yard,” Read said Friday, welcoming visiting journalists for a Hilton Fort Worth poached-egg breakfast similar to Kennedy’s on the morning of his farewell at what was then the Hotel Texas.

“But I’m also fortunate enough to see the statewide perspective.”

A Paschal High School and TCU graduate, Read had gone from the Press to direct campaign advertising for underdog congressional challenger Jim Wright of Weatherford, then for Fort Worth lawyer John Connally’s winning gubernatorial campaign.

As Connally’s spokesman, he took the front seat of the White House press corps bus in Dallas.

He heard shots and saw the limousine gain speed.

In his book, “JFK’s Final Hours in Texas,” he retells the story of the joyous Texas visit to San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth before Elm Street.

“The main thing I’m trying to do is fill in some gaps of history,” Read said.

“Everyone knows what happened, but few people know what all went into the trip.

“Connally was the host and helped lay out the itinerary. There’s this myth that this was supposed to iron out problems [among Texas Democrats], but really, they came down here to raise money.”

Read started writing a memoir but expanded the book to include the assassination’s impact on Texas and Dallas, including the national backlash.

Some businesses even changed addresses to a different city.

“There was the bitterness against Dallas, and then the struggle in Dallas to preserve landmarks like [what is now] the Sixth Floor Museum, because people just wanted to put it all behind them,” he said.

For the TV documentary, he helped set up a reenactment of the breakfast, taped in May with guests including five Carter-Riverside High School girls from Kennedy’s parking-lot speech and Cornelia “Corky” Friedman, wife of then-Mayor Bayard Friedman.

The documentary stars Fort Worth faces: the Texas Boys Choir singing “The Eyes of Texas,” Castleberry schoolchildren lining the local motorcade route along River Oaks Boulevard, and actor-narrator Bill Paxton, a local boy in the parking lot that day.

It was the beginning of the end.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.