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Over the years, Young developed a warm relationship with Kennedy and his wife, Vicki. “He would be all business during the interview, but afterwards, it was ‘let’s have lunch, let’s talk,’” he said. The two men were close in age and shared a fascination with history.
Their recorded conversations ended abruptly in 2008 when Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor that would ultimately lead to his death in 2010.
In those intervening months, Young says, Kennedy’s priorities were spending time with his family and managing his treatment. Kennedy also turned his attention to his own memoir, “True Compass.” That book relied heavily on the transcripts that Miller Center researchers provided, and Kennedy noted in the book’s acknowledgements that his own project began with Young and the center’s work.
The Other Commonwealth
That the project is being done in the foothills of central Virginia, instead of in the Brahman environs of Boston is surprising to many. Kennedy’s ties to the University of Virginia are few. Though he and his brother Bobby graduated from its law school, he is more associated with his undergraduate alma mater, Harvard.
But the Miller Center’s oral histories — it has either finished or is in the process of completing histories of the past five presidents — are what attracted Kennedy. The researchers had already made inroads in Washington, and the overlapping circles between Kennedy and President Bill Clinton meant that the center had already been in touch with some of the key players.
Young also believes that Kennedy was concerned that outsiders might interpret Kennedy’s participation in the project as an attempt to spin history by writing it himself. “He worried people might see this as another Kennedy whitewash,” Young says. Choosing an institution to which he had little affiliation helped insulate the project from critics who see cronyism in every Kennedy move.
But doing an oral history on a Senator was a new venture for the center, which had previously exclusively focused on the executive branch. For Kennedy, though, it made an exception. “If anyone merited a departure from the presidency, it was Kennedy, in part because of his family’s relationship with the institution,” Riley says.