Each time this date comes around—and it seems to come around every single year—I find myself thinking of 22 Nov 1963, for it was then that the death of C. S. Lewis occurred, followed, an hour later, by the death of John F. Kennedy, followed, seven hours after that, by the death of Aldous Huxley. Three giants, all gone in the blink of an eye1. Unsurprisingly, there are many notable letters related to these events—not least Laura Huxley’s account of her husband’s death, which can be read here—but my favourite, for want of a better word, has to be this one, as it shines a light on one of history’s most discussed episodes, but from a different angle. It is also, quite simply, a fantastic piece of correspondence.
On November 22nd of 1963, as he travelled by motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was killed by the two bullets of a sniper hiding on the sixth floor of a nearby building; one of Kennedy’s travelling companions, Governor of Texas Jack Connally, was also injured. Five days later, Charles Jack Price, then-Administrator of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, proudly wrote to all staff and made clear his appreciation for their professional conduct over the past week—a period during which, as the world’s population looked on in abject horror, the hospital had dealt with the deaths of two people in particular on its premises: John F. Kennedy, and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
November 27, 1963
To: All Employees
At 12:38 p.m., Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy and Texas’ Governor John Connally were brought to the Emergency Room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being struck down by the bullets of an assassin.
At 1:07 p.m., Sunday, November 24, 1963, Lee. H. Oswald, accused assassin of the late president, died in an operating room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being shot by a bystander in the basement of Dallas’ City Hall. In the intervening 48 hours and 31 minutes Parkland Memorial Hospital had:
Become the temporary seat of the government of the United States.
Become the temporary seat of the government of the State of Texas.
Become the site of the death of the 35th President.
Become the site of the ascendency of the 36th President.
Become site of the death of President Kennedy’s accused assassin.
Twice become the center of the attention of the world.
Continued to function at close to normal pace as a large charity hospital.
What is it that enables an institution to take in stride such a series of history jolting events? Spirit? Dedication? Preparedness? Certainly, all of these are important, but the underlying factor is people. People whose education and training is sound. People whose judgement is calm and perceptive. People whose actions are deliberate and definitive. Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting.
C. J. Price
I am acutely aware that millions of non-famous people also die each day of every year, many of them also “giants” in someone’s eyes.