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The Kennedy Collection of Dean William Rudoy

A Tribute: Collecting and Recollecting Kennedys

When I was a boy, I collected many things --- leaves, rocks, marbles, stamps. Regarding the latter, I recall the special pleasure in "filling the page". Over the past fifty years of collecting Kennedy memorabilia, certainly there were moments of joy in the acquisition of a specific campaign button or flyer to complete a series, or a manuscript piece or object that represented a particular epoch in the life of one of the brothers. But in looking back, there was a deeper motivation than acquisition and accumulation.

Certainly regarding John and Robert, who continue to reside vividly in my memory and imagination long after their passing, I was gathering tangible objects related to them that I could hold in my hands to help me to recall them into the present. And so, I suppose in a way I was recollecting more than just collecting.

The fact is that I didn't begin my collection by collecting at all. I simply kept a few souvenirs of my work on John and Robert's Presidential campaigns. It wasn't until after they were gone, that I began to search for other things.

How It Began: JFK

Let me take you back to the summer of 1960, to the corner of Main Street and New York Avenue in Oshkosh Wisconsin, where you will find me at age eleven handing out bumper stickers for John F. Kennedy, candidate for President of the United States. This was an exciting time for a boy who was just beginning to peek out beyond the perimeter of family and community to the wider world. And, there was this man, this young man, who spoke of the great promise and responsibility of the next generation of Americans. And, that next generation included me. I felt, perhaps for the first time, a part of something much larger than myself. For my volunteer efforts, I was awarded a little silver PT 109 pin, a precious souvenir that I still wear on my lapel.

And then, he became President and it was as if the world, which we had been watching in shades of black and white, suddenly turned to full color. I watched him on TV. I listened to his speeches. I read his books. I pinned my hopes on him.

The New Frontier --- a vision of a young, vital, and generous America --- captivated my imagination. It all began with his Inaugural Address --- at once a proclamation of freedom, a declaration of strength, and an appeal for peace. And in those 1000 days that followed, I watched extraordinary things unfold: the Food for Peace Program, the Alliance for Progress, the Peace Corps, civil rights legislation, arts initiatives, the space program, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Along with the rest of the world, I held my breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis all the way to its successful and peaceful conclusion.

And, in a time when our country was altogether mesmerized with the communist threat, I heard our President frankly acknowledge our differences with the Soviet Union, but then say, "... in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And, we are all mortal ." In those few unprecedented words, he transcended the constricted boundaries of our thinking and pointed us toward a new vision of our country and the world, a world of common purpose, a world at peace.

Years later, Caroline Kennedy sent me a copy of a doodle her father had drawn. It was of the Presidential Seal. Instead of arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other, the eagle held olive branches in both.

And then, he was gone.

How It Continued: RFK

Five years later, I worked on Robert F. Kennedy's Presidential campaign, while I was attending college at The Johns Hopkins University and deeply involved in the peace movement. This was a different time with different challenges. And I, too, was different --- older now and far more aware of the injustices prevalent in our own country and in our relations with other nations. Robert Kennedy spoke to these issues with passion and clarity. He directed our gaze away from ourselves and toward those whom we had forgotten in our midst. He called upon us to hear the voices of those who suffer from afar. And, by informing our political discourse with both compassion and commitment to action, he demonstrated the possibility of elevating our lives through service.

As a man, he had been transformed by his brother's death. He carried his grief in his eyes. It was present in his posture. And, when he visited Bedford-Stuyvesant and Watts and Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and the migrant farmers' fields, and said that it was "unacceptable" that people in our country should live this way, the people he met, the people whose lives were bent by pain and sorrow, they saw something in this slight young man that they recognized. They saw his suffering, and they trusted him with theirs. He became their voice and carried their hope.

Robert Kennedy spoke with equal fervor about the necessity of ending the war in Vietnam, a war that was not only unspeakable in its brutality, but also was being executed in violation of everything decent for which this country stands.

When he spoke of these and other problems, he called upon the young to accept their responsibility to lead us toward a just and humane future. Before a group of students in South Africa, he said, " Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe ."

And then, he was gone.

How It Proceeded: EMK

When I returned to college in the fall of 1968, I wanted to do something to honor John and Robert Kennedy and so I created The Kennedy Lectureship on International Affairs that was to take place on campus every Spring. I asked Edward Kennedy to give the first address of the lectureship. He said that he would like to, but that he could not, because of other commitments at the time. With a boldness that astonishes me now, I replied that I would delay the inauguration of the lectureship until he was available. And so, a year passed.

In February 1970, he wrote to me with six proposed dates and said, you choose. I selected the evening of Wednesday May 6. Preparations were made. In case we had overflow from the auditorium, I arranged for loudspeakers to stand outside Shriver Hall, so that those standing in the quadrangle could hear the Senator's speech. The day approached.

On Monday May 4, National Guardsmen shot and killed four unarmed students and wounded nine at Kent State University, during a student protest of President Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The country reeled, already torn apart by the war, and now further fractured by this act of violence on our own soil against our young. We urgently searched the horizon for someone to lead us out of the darkness. About 2,500 people filled the auditorium two nights later, and another 4,000 stood outside in the quadrangle, holding candles under the stars, listening to Edward Kennedy's impassioned plea for peace.

A couple of years later, I wrote a little book called Armed and Alone: The American Security Dilemma and asked Senator Kennedy if he would write the introduction. He kindly agreed. We remained in touch.

As his brothers were before him, Senator Kennedy was committed to extending the perimeter of freedom, equality, economic opportunity, and social justice to all Americans. He said, " It is the glory and the greatness of our tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land....For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die ."

And then, he was gone.

Gratitude

These three men had a remarkable impact on the development of my character. John Kennedy helped to shape my mind. Robert Kennedy helped to shape my heart. Edward Kennedy helped to shape my conscience.

Each manifest in his life a coincidence of opposites. They were at once idealists and realists, both romantic and pragmatic. Earnest and audacious, they elevated the political discourse in this country and outlined a trajectory of high purpose for America --- a generous America that would deliver on its promise. They had a vision --- in which people were free and nations were just --- in which the fundamental principles of liberty and equality would guide the conduct of a world at peace.

They labored hard for many years and gave an abundance of their own lives' energies to evoke the highest principles and deepest values of our people --- to realize that vision of decency and human dignity --- and they dared to challenge each of us to do our share.

My gratitude for them has only increased with the passage of time. Their vision is our hope.

And So It Goes

Though tangible and palpable, the mementos I am offering at auction point to something beyond the realm of form. They point to an enduring spirit embodied by these three brothers.

Collecting these objects over the past fifty years has been a joyful experience --- holding in my hands reminders of the past that bring these admirable men closer to the present.

However, long ago, a wise teacher of mine from the East said to me, " Oh Dean, you can hold many more grains of sand in open hands than in clenched fists ." That sounded important. It has taken many years and a lifetime of experience for me to come to a fuller understanding of what she meant. Letting go of these material objects now is part of that understanding.

And so, here at long last are the mementos. It is my wish that others will now experience that same excitement I felt in their acquisition --- and my hope that they will likewise appreciate the meaning that resides in their possession.

Postscript: Legacy

Thirty years after I created The Kennedy Lectureship at Johns Hopkins, it was my honor to sponsor the Robert F. Kennedy Conference at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on November 25, 2000, on what was the 75th anniversary of RFK's birth. Not long after that, I became involved with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, for ten years sponsoring its annual Human Rights Award, serving on its Board of Directors, and now serving as Trustee. And so, it pleases me to think that in some small way I have contributed toward the extension of the legacy of these men into the future, where it belongs.

It is altogether fitting that the sale of these mementos from the past benefit and contribute toward that future. Accordingly, a portion of the proceeds from this auction will be given to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live .
- Robert F. Kennedy


View the Kennedy Collection of Dean William Rudoy here - Part of Auction #6106.

Dean Rudoy
Dean Rudoy at his home near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He is auctioning more than 100 lots from his Kennedy collection.
Image by Brandon Wade