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David Francis Powers; Aide, Confidant to President Kennedy

March 28, 1998|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

BOSTON — David Francis Powers, the Boston Irishman who was President John F. Kennedy's famously devoted aide every step of the way to, through and for decades beyond the White House years, died Friday in an Arlington suburban hospital. He was 85.

Powers came to be known as Kennedy's "coat holder," "Sancho Panza" and "John's other wife" because he spent his life tending to JFK's career, his widow and children, and finally his legacy, as curator of the John F. Kennedy Library museum.

In 1972, he helped write the book "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye" with former Kennedy appointments secretary Kenneth P. O'Donnell.

The child of blue-collar Irish immigrants, Powers never went to college. He hawked newspapers on the waterfront, ushered five Masses on Sundays at his local Catholic church, and said he knew "practically everybody" in the neighborhood. He was sought out by Kennedy for help in the latter's 1946 congressional campaign.

After Kennedy was elected president in 1960, Powers became a special assistant in the White House, serving as greeter and full-time presidential friend. He woke Kennedy in the morning, brought him coffee, straightened his tie, told him jokes and gossip and swam with him in the White House pool.

On Nov. 22, 1963, Powers was riding in the car behind the president in Dallas when Kennedy was shot. Later, he helped place the president's body on a stretcher. He sat next to the casket with Jacqueline Kennedy on the return flight to Washington, and in the following months went to her Georgetown house daily to have lunch with little John F. Kennedy Jr.

Powers began assembling records and memorabilia for the JFK Library in 1964. He was curator from its opening in 1979 until he retired in 1994.

He served in the Army Air Force in China, Burma and India during World War II.

Survivors include his wife, Jo, a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.

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