WASHINGTON — Amid some tears, some smiles and a great deal of nonpartisan conviviality, President Reagan and John F. Kennedy's family joined together to help raise funds for the late President's memorial library in Boston.
In a tribute to the slain President, as his widow Jacqueline and their children, Caroline and John, looked contemplative and somber, Reagan praised Kennedy on Monday night in poetic tones as a man who "seemed to grasp from the beginning that life is one fast-moving train, and you have to jump aboard and hold on to your hat and relish the sweep of the wind as it rushes by."
Seated beneath a white tent on the grounds of the McLean, Va., home of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass), the Kennedys seemed almost caught up in a spell being woven by Reagan, the veteran Hollywood trouper and storyteller par excellence, rather than by Reagan, the President.
Sound of Memories
"I have been told that late at night when the clouds are still and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by," said Reagan, pacing his lines and emphasis. "You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, 'And another thing, Eleanor!'
"Turn down a hall," the President continued, "and you hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, 'Bully! Absolutely ripping!' Walk softly now and you're drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room, where a crowd surrounds a bright young President who is full of hope and laughter."
Seated on the platform behind Reagan and never taking her eyes off his back as he spoke was Jacqueline Onassis. Once or twice, John Kennedy Jr., seated between Ethel Kennedy and his cousin Kathleen Townsend, leaned forward to look at his mother. His sister, Caroline, sat next to Nancy Reagan.
Didn't Vote for Him
Both the First Lady and Onassis broke into smiles when Reagan tempered his praise of President Kennedy by saying he hadn't voted for him.
"I was for the other fellow," he said, referring to Richard M. Nixon. "But you know, it's true: when the battle's over and the ground is cooled, well, it's then that you see the opposing general's valor. (Kennedy) would have understood. He was fiercely, happily partisan, and his political fights were tough--no quarter asked and none given. But he gave as good as he got, and you could see that he loved the battle."
Sen. Kennedy, in turn, praised Reagan, saying he "restored the presidency as a vigorous, purposeful instrument of national leadership on issues. I suspect the two of you would not have always agreed but I know he would have admired the strength of your commitment and your capacity to move the nation."
Kennedy told Reagan that he had "reminded us anew of the enduring truth that we are Americans first and only then are we Democrats or Republicans." He said he had thought of the President often during the TWA hijacking-hostage crisis.
Two dozen Kennedys, including John Kennedy's sisters, Eunice Shriver, Pat Lawford and Jean Smith, were strategically scattered among the guests at the party, some of whom reportedly paid as much as $25,000 to attend.
Money raised at the event will be used to help fund expanding exhibits at the 6-year-old library and for a new project to involve young persons in politics and neighborhood projects, organizers said.
They dined on salmon, veal in a cream sauce and pears with chocolate sauce.