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Robert Kennedy visits Saranac Lake

June 30, 2008
By Howard Riley,

Robert Kennedy, in his run for the U.S. Senate, arrived at the Adirondack Regional Airport in June 1964, and I, as host mayor of Saranac Lake, rounded up all the Democrats in town and we all got in one car and drove out to the airport. (He was elected Senator the following November, and four years later (40 years ago on June 4, 1968), he was assassinated.

There was a large gathering of Franklin County Democrats there to greet him. We had borrowed a Cadillac convertible, so we could bring him into town in style. I guess he thought that wouldn't look too good for a rich man to be riding into town in the Caddy and wanting to be a man of the people, who he was, so he refused. So we hustled around and borrowed a Ford Falcon convertible from Spence Egglefield, and I believe all the Democrats in Essex County drove out to the airport in that car.

The wrong questions

Article Photos

Senator Kennedy, with his hand outreached to the crowd, visits Riverside Park in Saranac Lake. That smiling fellow to the left of Kennedy is John Fogarty, town Democratic chairman, behind Kennedy, an aide, over his shoulder is Mayor Howard Riley and to the right is Parks Superintendent George Bedore.
(Enteprise file photo)

I was city editor of the Enterprise at the time, and my good friend, the late Peter Winston Cox, was editor and publisher in the absence of the owners, James Loeb and Roger Wellington Tubby. Peter suggested that I ask Mr. Kennedy a few reporter-type questions on the way in from the airport. I did ask those questions and shared the platform with him in Riverside Park when we arrived to a cheering crowd estimated to be about 5,000 people. Assemblyman Jim LaPan introduced him and after the talk we were to go on to Lake Placid with him where another large crowd had gathered to greet him.

As we went to leave, there were so many people around the car trying to touch him that he had to be hoisted into the car (no space to open the car doors), and as I threw one leg over the passenger side to jump into the front seat (imagine, at that time, Kennedy was only 39 years old and I was 34), one of his aides pulled me off the car, thinking, I guess, that I was a reporter and not the mayor. Needless to say the car sped off to Lake Placid without me.

Later, he personally sent me a nice letter, which I can't locate, thanking me for the "help I had given him" during his visit to Saranac Lake.

We met on a number of occasions after that as he visited the region as Senator, making the rounds and skiing at Big Tupper.

Meeting the vice-president

Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Jacob Javits hosted a conference of rural elected officials in Washington, which I was privileged to attend. Jim and Ellen Loeb were in Washington at the same time and invited me to a sit-down dinner of 600 Democrats at a meeting of the Americans for Democratic Action. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was the guest speaker and since our table was near the podium, Jim introduced me to the VP.

VP Humphrey was just as he was always pictured as the "Happy Warrior" and he put his arm around me as we were introduced and he said, "A pleasure to meet you mayor, now get out of the job as fast as you can, there are better things awaiting. I was mayor of Minneapolis and I can tell you what all your phone calls are about - either someone's garbage was not picked up or someone's dog is running loose," and he was right.

Driving in the snow

Another time that Sen. Kennedy visited Big Tupper, he was staying with attorney and mayor Adam Palmer, who lived next door to my sister and brother-in-law, Rita and John Littlefield on Racquet River Drive ( the house now owned by attorney Jeremiah Hayes and his family).

I remember hearing the story that as the neighbors gathered at the Littlefield's to meet or see the Senator, which maybe they did or did not, but they at least got to watch him change into his ski clothes in an upstairs bedroom at the Palmer residence.

Anyway, at the time, there was a big press contingent traveling with him and I offered to drive them to Tupper Lake in my nine-passenger Pontiac wagon. With a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground, a big car with a posi-traction differential and new "suburbanite" snow tires I just waltzed that machine over that crooked road by Saranac Inn. I was visiting with my passengers as the rear-end was doing that slight fish-tailing on the hills and corners (back when winter driving was fun and there was no salt to turn the roads to that dangerous mush) and I never realized that the city press corps were scared to death and white-knuckling it all the way.

The remarks when we arrived in Tupper Lake can't be printed here but the nicest was, "do you always drive like that?" And, of course, I did, and it never occurred to me that most of those fellows had probably never driven in the snow.

(Editor's note: This article appeared in the Saturday, June 28 issue of the Enterprise but was mistakenly not posted online until Monday.)



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