Kathleen Kennedy Townsend visit makes history at SFA
“I am so enthusiastic about America’s future” —Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 23:02
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s week-long visit made history at SFA. The Grand Ballroom filled up with students and community members for Townsend’s interview Tuesday night. This was the first time SFA hosted a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow—something Dr. Janice Pattillo, SFA’s first lady, has worked on for several years.
Dr. Richard Berry, provost and vice president for academic affairs introduced Townsend and her interviewer, Judy McDonald, former Nacogdoches mayor and wife of the late Dr. Archie McDonald.
Townsend, the eldest daughter of Ethel and the late Robert Kennedy’s 11 children, at first shared funny family stories to break the ice before she moved on to more serious topics. When asked about what it was like to grow up in the Kennedy family, Townsend set the scene at Hickory Hill where she grew up. She shared about the animals and touch football games her family placed so much importance on when politics and social issues weren’t in the limelight.
McDonald asked about how the assassinations of both her uncle and father affected her. Townsend was quick to share that the letter RFK wrote to her after JFK’s death was highly influential. She was challenged to “work for her country.”
“I’m glad my parents made us look forward instead of having anger and revenge.”
Townsend, a little girl during the Cuban Missile Crisis, noted, “That crisis showed us a lot of things.”
JFK and RFK kept their families in Washington during the crisis.
Another tragedy Townsend recalled was right before her wedding.
“Two nights before my wedding I went by my mother’s bathroom and saw her crying,” she said. Her mother informed her that her cousin, Ted Kennedy’s son, had cancer and his leg needed to be amputated.
So Ted walked her down the aisle and immediately went back to the hospital for Ted Jr.’s surgery.
McDonald asked Townsend about women’s role in politics and how she became politically active.
“For me it was always guys who were in politics...It was really the women’s movement that opened me up to the idea that I could run for political office.”
Townsend wanted to share about how she met her husband because she thought it was relevant to the college students in the audience.
“When I was in college I had a crush on my teacher, so I said to him we should meet more often. We were reading Mark Twain so I thought why wouldn’t we just build a raft and float down the Mississippi?”
They did and ended up traveling 500 miles down the river together and have been happily married with four children for more than 30 years.
With what seemed like a very loaded question for an East Texas audience, McDonald asked Townsend if she had any suggestions about illegal immigration.
“The United States tempted all these people to come. We need to have a way for immigrants to stay here...because we tempted them.”
She emphasized what a huge part of the labor force they are by saying, “If you’re like me at 62 you want the immigrants to take care of you.”
Making sure she pointed out that “something like” 8 of 10 of America’s largest corporations were started by immigrants, she said. “What makes America special is our immigrants.”
Afterwards, Townsend confessed trying to act bipartisan was hard, and she and McDonald joked about having both Republican and Democratic speakers on the stage.
She wrapped up the conversation commenting on the future of our country and alternative energy.
“I am so enthusiastic about America’s future”
“We are in the midst of an energy boom on our way to becoming energy independent.”
Following Townsend’s final comments, McDonald ended by thanking the speaker “for making this a better place for everyone.”
Dr. Baker Pattillo then took the stage and presented her with an SFA shirt to wear at the Rec Center while she works out here, “and any other Rec Center at any other college in the country,” Pattillo jokingly suggested.