Bradenton woman was young teacher in Austin on Nov. 22, 1963

vmannix@bradenton.comNovember 22, 2013 

Kathleen Richardson

BRADENTON -- Kathleen Richardson remembers the buzz around school that Friday morning 50 years ago.

A 22-year-old volunteer second-grade teacher at a Catholic elementary school for Hispanic children in south Austin, Texas, she helped get the 300-plus students lined up for the 20-minute bus ride to downtown Austin.

It was about 12:15 p.m. CST.

They were going to join the crowds welcoming President Kennedy after he and his entourage had left Dallas to fly to Austin where JFK was to attend a fundraising banquet that night.

What transpired Nov. 22, 1963, is recounted in Richardson's forthcoming book, "To Love an Addict," a mem

oir of 18 years married to an abusive husband and how she ultimately changed herself and her life.

"I still see the intense sadness on all the faces that day, the sadness of the entire thing," the 72-year-old grandmother said Wednesday. "I still wonder why (JFK assassin Lee Harvey) Oswald did it. I still don't understand it. I guess it's something we'll never find out."

Though the 50th anniversary doesn't resonate as much as it once did for Richardson, it still gives her pause.

"Many years have gone by and so many things have happened in our country," she said. "But this one stands out, absolutely."

As does Richardson's vivid recollection in her writing:

"The children stood quietly, but I could sense a wave of controlled excitement rippling through us," Richardson said. "This was an opportunity of a lifetime -- to actually get a glimpse of our hero, our president, John F. Kennedy."

"All eyes were on the mother superior while we watched for her signal to begin boarding the buses," Richardson wrote. "'Mother, mother,'" someone called from the administrative building."

The secretary came running.

"What's going on, we wondered? She whispered to mother superior, handing her a transistor radio. Mother turned to us and said, 'Governor Connally has been shot. We're going into the church to pray for him,'" Richardson wrote.

Stunned, everyone turned around, still in orderly lines and filed into the pews and knelt, hands clasped, heads bowed, lips moving in silent prayer.

"Mother stood in the back of the church, holding the small transistor close to her ear; we heard a muted voice, but could not make out the words. Then she walked to the front of the church, turned and said to us, voice steady, 'The president has been shot. Pray for the president,'" Richardson wrote.

A universal gasp coursed through the church. The little children squirmed as they knelt. The older girls, seventh- and eighth-graders, began crying, softly. The radio continued its secret words. Little candles trembled in their blood red holders, waiting for news.

"Then we heard the worst. 'The president is dead,'" mother superior said. "'Pray for our president, John F. Kennedy,' Shocked, I mumbled some sort of prayer, tears running down my face," Richardson wrote.

What about his wife? What about his children?

In orderly lines again, we returned to our classrooms.

"With fearful eyes, the children stared at my tear-stained face," Richardson wrote. "They knew something bad had happened, but they weren't sure what it was. A few of the girls seeing my distress, began to cry. I swiped my face with a tissue, shook off the sorrow for now and reassured them I was okay. After the children returned to their seats, one of the boys raised his hand.

"Yes, Jimmy," I answered.

"Does this mean we don't get out of school?"

"Yes, that's what it means."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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