We observe the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination with a reminiscence by A. Hamilton Rowan Jr. The late Mr. Rowan spent 22 years as a senior AKC executive. His article was first published in the November 1999 AKC Gazette.
One late afternoon in May 1970, the elevator door at the AKC’s 51 Madison Avenue office clanged open and out walked an impeccably attired lady, followed by an obviously subdued 10-year-old boy. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her son, John F. Kennedy Jr., had arrived at my invitation. One month prior, I had received a telephone call from Mrs. Onassis’s secretary, Nancy Tuckerman, asking whether it would be possible to obtain “papers” for John’s English Cocker Spaniel. The dog had been presented as a puppy to President Kennedy by the Irish government during his 1963 visit to Ireland. Mrs. Onassis was anxious to have the now 7-year-old dog sire a littler. Mrs. Onassis, however, was adamant that the resultant puppies be eligible for AKC registration.
Before being appointed AKC secretary, I had spent a year reorganizing the Foreign Registration department. The knowledge acquired there would now serve me well. I telephoned Dublin and explained the situation to the Irish Kennel Club’s registrar, and individual with whom I had established a fine working relationship. One week later, I opened a large envelope from Dublin and spread out on my desk the Irish Kennel Club export pedigree for an English Cocker Spaniel dog, Shannon Kennedy, together with an IKC multi-generation pedigree. As usual, my belief in leprechauns had been justified. After some routine formalities, I had Shannon’s registration certificate in hand. I phoned Tuckerman with the good news and meekly added that perhaps Mrs. Onassis might like to have this certificate presented to John at the AKC offices, and at the same time show him our beautiful dog art collection and explain how and why dogs get registered. Not 10 minutes later, Tuckerman called with Mrs. Onassis’s enthusiastic acceptance. Knowing Mrs. Onassis’s disdain for publicity, and because John was still under Secret Service protection, I suggested she arrive at 5:30 p.m., when only the few AKC night-shift people would be working. I alreted building security about our distinguished guests. Thus, it was by pre-arrangement that security met them at the Madison Avenue entrance and escorted them to an empty, waiting elevator. Virtually no one else was aware of our visitors.
During a short meeting in my office, Senior Vice President John Bronwell and I presented John with Shannon’s registration certificate, an AKC three-generation certified pedigree, and a copy of The Complete Dog Book. Then followed a tour of the executive offices on the 20th floor, including the Library, where both of our guests signed the leather-bound visitors book. Mrs. Onassis was genuinely impressed with our collection of dog art; I think John would have preferred to be home playing with Shannon. When the visit was over, I accompanied Mrs. Onassis and John on the elevator down to the lobby where, to my amazement, a crowd of several hundred people had gathered in the intervening hour. We walked through a gauntlet of applauding onlookers to the sidewalk. One cue, two limousines rolled into view. Two Secret Service agents held the car door open while Mrs. Onassis and John expressed their appreciation to me. And then they were gone.
PHOTO CREDIT JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY