Sunday, July 18, 1999

Kennedy's energy, grace made impression here

Friendships included Larry Flynt

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As the grim search for John F. Kennedy Jr. and his flight companions dragged on Saturday, local people who knew the family lamented the darkness that has claimed so many young Kennedy lives.

        “This is terrible news. God, what a star-crossed family,” said former Cincinnati Mayor Thomas Brush, who met JFK Jr. on a train in Vietnam in 1993.

  “Those guys just have a curse or something. I feel sorry for that family. A lot of bad things seem to happen to them.”
  — Andrew Hammer, Batavia

  “What is it with the Kennedy family and the terrible luck they seem to have? He just seemed like a really nice person. They all have to die too young.”
  — Carole Perry, Westwood

  “It's real sad that so much has happened to them because JFK Jr. and all his family are such good people.”
  — Katherine Thomas, Over the Rhine

  “That's a shame! I liked JFK's boy. I was impressed by him and how well he carried himself...That family helped out blacks an awful lot, and they were good people. But every time I turn around there's something happening to one of them. They just can't have any more bad luck, can they?”
  — Geraldine Austin, West End

  “You must recall that John F. Kennedy, the ex-president, went through the PT-109 incident and survived. So I don't want to give up hope at this time. It must be a lot of stress on the family, but I'm still hopeful they survive.”
  — William L. Mallory Sr., West End

        The two talked about the war, the Peace Corps and the future. Mr. Kennedy said he was planning to return to New York to start a business, which turned out to be his political magazine, George.

        “He was a very bright young person with a lot of promise, but he always kept a lid on it,” Mr. Brush said. “He never seemed to want to get that far out into the limelight.”

        Born into the limelight as the son of the 35th president, Mr. Kennedy, 38, turned aside politics for publishing. He married New York publicist Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in 1996, and she and her sister, Lauren Bes sette, were thought to be aboard the small plane that was missing Saturday.

        Mr. Kennedy struck up an unlikely friendship with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who recently resolved legal tangles over his Hustler store in downtown Cincinnati. Mr. Flynt said he was to have lunch Tuesday with Mr. Kennedy in Washington, D.C.

        “He had a ton of questions, where to focus his energy,” Mr. Flynt said.

        The two raised a furor in May when Mr. Flynt attended the White House Correspondents Dinner as Mr. Kennedy's guest.

        “The thing I've got give him most credit for — let's face it, Larry Flynt is a guy a lot of people don't want to associate with — criticism like that didn't affect him,” Mr. Flynt said.

        Mr. Kennedy and his sister, Caroline, created a Profiles in Courage award in honor of their father, to be given each year to a person who showed courage in public life. Tyrone Yates, Cincinnati city councilman, met Mr. Kennedy at the 1993 ceremony in Boston.

        “He was a symbol of grace and stature,” Mr. Yates said. “He was not a distant person, but he was not a glad-hander either.”

        During a speech at the award ceremony, Mr. Yates said, Mr. Kennedy alluded to an entry into politics.

        “He said if he was ever to have a career in public life that civil rights ... would certainly be a part of his agenda,” Mr. Yates said.

        Cincinnati-based lobbyist Richard Weiland said he has known the Kennedy family for about 14 years and had been invited to the family's compound in Hyannisport, Mass., each of the last four years. He met JFK Jr. only briefly.

        The Kennedys “have retained their strength,” Mr. Weiland said. “No matter what's happened, they still seem to serve their country.”

        Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley also has visited the Kennedy compound a number of times. He said JFK Jr. struck him as “a bright young man with tremendous leadership abilities.”

        Mr. Chesley, like others, was struck by the misfortune that seems to stalk the family.

        “People fly in planes every day,” he said. “What you have is like a Greek tragedy. You have this great, charismatic family ... and then this tragedy that just keeps following them.”

        Rachel Melcer contributed to this report.

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