John F. Kennedy
W. Marvin Watson
Patrick Kenneth O'Donnell
March 4, 1924 (age 53) Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S. (
Cleo O'Donnell (father)
Kathleen Schlichenmaier, Kevin M. O'Donnell
Asta Hanna Helga Steinfatt (m. 1977–1977), Helen Sullivan (m. 1947–1977)
September 9, 1977 (aged 53) Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
November 21 1973 president john f kennedy aide kenneth o donnell interview 10 years after
Kenneth Patrick "Kenny" O'Donnell (March 4, 1924 – September 9, 1977) was an American political consultant who served as the special assistant and appointments secretary to U.S. President John F. Kennedy from 1961 until President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. O'Donnell was a close friend of President Kennedy and his younger brother, politician Robert F. Kennedy, and was part of the group of Kennedy's close advisors called the "Irish Mafia".
- November 21 1973 president john f kennedy aide kenneth o donnell interview 10 years after
- Early life
- Marriages and children
- In popular culture
- Dramatic representations
O'Donnell served as President Lyndon B. Johnson's aide from 1963 to 1965, and was a key campaign advisor for Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.
Kenneth Patrick O'Donnell was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and raised in Boston. Both of his parents were Roman Catholics of Irish descent. His father, Cleo O'Donnell, was the football coach for the Holy Cross Crusaders football team for two decades and later athletics director for all sports activities at the College of the Holy Cross. O'Donnell's older brother, also named Cleo, was a football star at Harvard during the 1940s.
During World War II O'Donnell served in the US Army Air Corps (1942–1945). After completing his service in the AAC, he studied at Harvard College 1946–1949. It was at Harvard that O'Donnell met Robert F. Kennedy, where they were roommates as well as teammates on the Harvard football team; O'Donnell became team captain in 1948. O'Donnell and Robert Kennedy remained close friends until the latter's assassination in 1968.
Following graduation from Harvard, O'Donnell attended law school at Boston College from 1950–51. He later worked as a salesman for the Hollingsworth & Vose Paper Company and then the Whitney Corporation, both in Boston, from 1951 to 1952. O'Donnell later worked in public relations from 1952 to 1957.
O'Donnell's friendship with Robert Kennedy led to his involvement with the Kennedy family's political career. In 1946, Robert Kennedy enlisted O'Donnell to work on his elder brother's, John F. Kennedy, first congressional campaign. In 1952, O'Donnell and Robert Kennedy campaigned together to get John Kennedy elected to the United States Senate. O'Donnell then went on to serve as John Kennedy's unpaid political observer in Massachusetts, until he in 1957 was employed as assistant counsel of the 1957–59 Senate Labor Rackets Committee by Robert Kennedy, who had been appointed chief counsel of the committee.
In 1958, O'Donnell became a member of John Kennedy's staff and, in 1960, became the organizer and director of Kennedy's presidential campaign schedule. The following year he became President Kennedy's special assistant and Appointments Secretary.
O'Donnell advised President Kennedy during the planning for the Bay of Pigs invasion as well as during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
He later arranged President Kennedy's trip to Dallas in November 1963, and was in a car just behind the president's limousine when Kennedy was assassinated. President Kennedy's death was an enormous blow to O'Donnell, who long blamed himself for the assassination. O'Donnell told the Warren Commission that the shooting had come from the rear. He later told his friend, Tip O'Neill, that he had been under pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to say this. In fact, he believed that the gunfire had come from in front of the motorcade. O'Donnell commented: "I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."
After having served as a Presidential Aide to Lyndon Johnson until 1965, O'Donnell tried to win the Democratic nomination for the election for Massachusetts Governor in 1966, losing by only 64,000 votes to Edward McCormack, which was much less than the polls had predicted. In 1968, he served as campaign manager for Robert Kennedy, when Kennedy challenged President Johnson for renomination.
Following Robert Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, which was a more devastating blow to O'Donnell than the assassination of President Kennedy five years earlier, he joined, as did many others in Kennedy's campaign, Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign, serving as campaign manager for Humphrey.
In 1970, he made another attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the election for Massachusetts Governor, but finished fourth in a primary field of four Democrats, with just 9 percent of the vote.
Marriages and children
While at Harvard, O'Donnell married Helen Sullivan in 1947. They had five children: Kenneth, Jr., twins Kathleen and Kevin, Mark and Helen.
In January 1977, O'Donnell's wife Helen died of the effects of alcoholism. He remarried shortly thereafter to Asta Hanna Helga Steinfatt, a native of Germany. They remained married until O'Donnell's death a few months later.
In the years following the assassinations of President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, O'Donnell grew increasingly depressed and began drinking heavily. His depression and alcoholism were furthered by the failure of his own political career.
On August 11, 1977, O'Donnell was admitted to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston for a gastrointestinal ailment brought on from the effects of alcoholism. His condition grew progressively worse and, on September 9, O'Donnell died at the age of 53. At the request of O'Donnell's family, a cause of death was not publicly announced. O'Donnell's youngest daughter Helen later attributed her father's death to alcoholism.
On September 12, a funeral mass was held at the Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica Plain. Among the attendees were former mayor of Boston John F. Collins, Speaker of the House John William McCormack, and several members of the Kennedy family including President Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. O'Donnell is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.
In his biography With Kennedy (1966), Pierre Salinger writes:
In his autobiography Counselor, Ted Sorensen, who served as special counsel to President Kennedy, claims that O'Donnell polarized the JFK staff into the professional "politicians" and the academicians (such as Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger). Sorensen also claims that O'Donnell's antipathy towards him ran so deep that in 1976/77 he worked to derail Sorensen's nomination as Director of Central Intelligence for Jimmy Carter.
In popular culture
In 1998, William Morrow & Co. published A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell. The memoir was written by O’Donnell's daughter, freelance writer Helen O’Donnell, and chronicles her father's close friendship with Robert Kennedy.