Ronald Reagan Offers Ethel Kennedy His Help as Robert F. Kennedy, Shot in Los Angeles, Lay Dying

June 5, 1968

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Ronald Reagan Offers Ethel Kennedy His Help as Robert F. Kennedy, Shot in Los Angeles, Lay Dying
Autograph Letter Signed
1 page | SMC 502

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      Background

      The election of 1968 had sharp surprises, shocking events, and showed more and more with each new day, the sudden sweeping changes in American life and politics. There was a generation gap, a gender gap, a racial gap, and a bitter war at home about the war abroad, in Vietnam. The center, it seemed, couldn’t hold. Race riots swept the country. Students burned their draft cards. The incumbent President refused to run. In April, Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis; in June, on the night he won the California Democratic Primary, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot in the head. Normality was routed, civility run off, violence gaining ground. The American people had not been so divided since the Civil War. That is why this letter, written by Governor Ronald Reagan to the wife of Robert Kennedy as the Senator lay dying, is so telling: it demonstrates that even at the tipping point, the keystone American value of respect for the beliefs of others was intact…

      I know there is little anyone can say at such a time but if there is anything we can do to be of help in any way please let us know. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

      Reagan did not agree with Kennedy politically, or approve of him at all. Moreover, he was himself getting ready to seek the 1968 Republican nomination for president. If Kennedy, a charismatic and compelling figure, had lived, he most probably would have won the Democratic nomination and perhaps, faced the equally compelling Reagan in the election. But when Kennedy was shot, Reagan only felt the tragedy of a young man taken from his family in a terrible way. His first thought was to help, by offering the services of his father-in-law, a famous neurosurgeon. His tolerance of Kennedy’s political beliefs - so very different from his own - was absolute, and allowed him to set aside partisan differences and concentrate, instead, on a simple shared humanity. It seems obvious that he would do so, but in much of today’s world, tolerance of political opponents is a value neither taught nor practiced.


      Autograph Letter Signed (“Nancy & Ronald Reagan”), as Governor, 1 page, quarto, no place [Sacramento], June 5, 1968. To ETHEL KENNEDY, the wife of Senator Robert F, Kennedy (1925-1968), at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
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      6-5-68

      Mrs. Robt. Kennedy

      I know there is little anyone can say at such a time but if there is anything we can do to be of help in any way please let us know.

      Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

      Nancy & Ronald Reagan

      Good Samaritan Hospital
      Los Angeles, Calif.