Editor's note: This column by Charles Bartlett was published in the Chattanooga Times on Nov. 24, 1963, two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Bartlett, now 92, was a personal friend of JFK and a former Chattanooga Times Washington, D.C., correspondent.
John F. Kennedy was an intensely realistic man and he talked occasionally of assassination in the same analytical fashion in which he discussed the other hazards and opportunities of his presidency. On the morning of the day it happened, he referred to the ease with which a president could be shot.
This may or may not have been a premonition, but it was certainly not a fear or any form of negative emotion. His mind dwelled constantly on the forces which could obstruct his purposes and this was simply one that had to be considered.
He was impelled into politics by a sense of the things that could be done for the country.
His days in the White House were marked above all by a driving desire to do the best in the time that he had.
He could not have regretted, if the assassin's bullet left him any moments of reflection before death, any wasted time or missed opportunities. He could only have felt a deep sadness that he would not live to achieve his high hopes for his administration.
It is ironic that a man so dedicated to tangible deeds is destined now to be remembered less for his accomplishments than for the intangible qualities of his spirit and character. He disciplined himself to be great in order to do great things and the waste of his death is that his greatness so far exceeded his time for achievement.
Discipline was a prime ingredient of his greatness. He rarely talked in abstract terms, but he displayed over the years a firm determination to define for himself the strong and weak characteristics of man and to expand the strengths and reject the flaws that he found in himself. It was as if he had assessed the qualities that he would need for the challenges he saw ahead and determined to possess them through an exercise of will.
In this pursuit he had much to work with from the beginning. His mind was lightning fast from youth, his intuition was quick and precise, and his curiosity was limitless. His temperament was innately between action and reflection between gravity and humor, and between cold reason and human warmth.
He did not change as a personality. His burdens never eclipsed his broad streak of gaiety, his adversities did not encroach upon his optimism, and his honors and offices never managed to swell his solid assurance into anything that could be called conceit.
He inspired loyalty because he was loyal and because his personal qualities made associates and friends strive to show him their best. He projected an electricity which reached from a spark of wisdom or wit and his presence, even as a young man, was always a challenge.
The zest and enthusiasm that he brought into the White House never flickered. He arrived with a burning sense of the good things that could be done and as he faced the difficulties of doing them, his determination deepened and his pace quickened. Death caught him at a time when he was stimulated beyond all the past periods of his intense life by the varied problems on the domestic and foreign fronts. He went off to Texas in a high spirit of confidence that he could meet these tests despite all the disappointment of the past year.
His force stemmed from his belief that a great nation should not tolerate remediable shortcomings and no one who had the privilege of knowing him can ever accept the virtue of a passive attitude. To at least this friend, his epitaph will be: "He saw the problems and struggled with all his fiber to meet them."
"He was a gentle and fine man who possessed the will to meet the problems as he saw them."