When Ted Kennedy was young, lean and stood on folding chairs ... | Off Deadline | Jay Thorwaldson | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Off Deadline

By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

View all posts from Jay Thorwaldson

When Ted Kennedy was young, lean and stood on folding chairs ...

Uploaded: Aug 26, 2009
The passing of Ted Kennedy this week evokes a particular personal memory from decades back, when we were both younger and leaner.

One day in 1960 I was heading home from San Jose State to Los Gatos and went the back way, driving my '49 Dodge coupe up Saratoga Avenue past the small community of Monte Sereno, where retired admirals lived. The town was notable for its postage-stamp-sized City Hall and a flagpole that one admiral personally installed to save money. He was quite proud of that.

There in the smallish parking lot was a group of people with a dark-haired young fellow vigorously exhorting the crowd from some kind of raised platform. Being a budding journalist, I pulled over, walked back and discovered Ted Kennedy campaigning in a broad New England accent on behalf of his older brother, Jack, who was running for U.S. president.

I observed that he was standing precariously on a small metal folding chair, and I wondered how he managed to keep his balance while gesturing with his arms. He wore a dark three-piece, vested suit and was lean enough to impress me and not collapse the chair.

I took some notes and he bid farewell, was applauded, climbed down from the chair and into a limo parked nearby.

In the morning I called the editor of the local paper, the then-daily Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, Gene Johnson, with whom I had done an internship.

I asked if she had all she needed about "Teddy's" appearance.

Yes, she said, and then commented on what an impressive turnout it was. I asked what she meant. "Well, 500 people is a good turnout," she said, adding that was the figure supplied by a local dentist who was chair of the Democratic Club in town.

"He told you 500?" I asked, incredulous. "I counted 55 heads."

The good dentist, whom I had once interviewed for the high school student paper, had multiplied the turnout by a factor of 10.

It was my first real lesson in the world of realpolitik.

In this case a good community-based person fudged for some perceived political advantage in a numbers/image game. Maybe "lied" is more accurate for his gross, manipulative deception.

What it cost him was a forever loss of credibility with the local newspaper, and me, of course.

I have always kept that experience in mind when dealing with politically minded persons of the left or right, conservative or liberal -- or anyone more committed to a cause than they might be to accuracy or truth.

It is a microcosmic example of the kind of corruption that grows with larger doses of power and influence, where people see short-term advantages as more important than long-term trust. It is the seed of cynicism on the part of many Americans, while others -- perhaps the majority -- seem to remain as gullible as ever.

Kennedy likely had nothing to do with the deception -- unless he advised the dentist to multiply the turnout. Ah, my cynicism shows. I don't really believe he did. I believe the dentist just succumbed to temptation when he thought he was the sole source for the story.

Both he and Ted are now deceased, and the editor is far away in a Northern California retirement, last I heard, and I am the sole source for the above anecdote. Take it or leave it.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Norman Carroll, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Morbid as it may be: I remember an era (yes, it was that long and ago) when a gentleman would rate the actual age of his date by asking: ?Where were you when Kennedy was shot?? and gauging hearing the answer. Us really old guys roll John Jr. into the joke.

It doesn?t seem that funny today.

Posted by Mark, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm


Thank you!

That is probably the most honest political reporting I have heard in decades.

Give us more!

Posted by Norm, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I was remiss, Mark reminded me -
Thanks, Jay

Posted by Mark, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm


I remember *exactly* where I was when JFK was murdered. Same for 9/11. I remember that my mom was infatuated with JFK. My father voted for Nixon. I don't know which one of my parents was right, or wrong, or for what reasons, but I do admire the Kennedy family, even if it was standard issue corrupt. The Kennedys provided some memories, and that is good enough for me, at this point in my life.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 5:58 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Rant and rave, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Sharon, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 6:24 pm

The fact that Teds earlier problems were related to substance abuse is being reported by many left media this evening, the fact that he turned his life around in the 90s after the incident in Florida is admirable.

Even those who oppose his positions applaud him for his courage in taking responsibility and turning his life around.

The Kennedy family, like many other prominent driven families, was a Greek tragedy of substance abuse.

Denial about these things does not work, being honest about them helps others, Ted Kennedy was radically honest about these issues with Senator Hatch and others, his honesty and action on this matter is a very admirable part of his legacy.

Posted by Karma returns, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 8:55 pm

One word: Chappaquiddick.

Posted by Alice Smith, a resident of ,
on Aug 26, 2009 at 11:56 pm

What I admired about Teddy Kennedy was his hard work on Justice in America: whether it was civil rights or healthcare for all. He stood against the fbigots and stood up for having a fairer, kinder society.

Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of ,
on Aug 27, 2009 at 5:03 am

Thanks, Jay! What a remarkable man Ted Kennedy was! Who would have guessed in 1960 when he came on the scene in JFK'S campaign that he would become the "lion in the Senate," concerned about the common man. He is THE best example of a personal transformation!

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Aug 27, 2009 at 5:45 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Political dynasties tend not to be beneficial to the people. The best Kennedy died in the skies over England.

Posted by fireman, a resident of ,
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:42 am

Alice, how about justice in Palo Alto?

Posted by Gordon, a resident of ,
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:44 am

I don't know if I can trust this journalist's account. Saratoga Ave. does not go through or past Monte Sereno. Perhaps there really were 500 Kennedy supporters at the rally.

Posted by FM, a resident of ,
on Aug 29, 2009 at 6:27 am

Walter_E_Wallis - that's what papa Joe wanted

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Aug 29, 2009 at 11:50 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Dear Gordon -- Technically it's the Saratoga-Los Gatos Road these days. When it got into Los Gatos, we used to call it Saratoga Avenue, down by the Five Spot drive-in by the railroad tracks and long before the freeway went in.

I delivered Western Union Telegrams there summers and after school from 1950 to 1953 -- including death notices from the Korean War. Nearly a decade later in my first year in college I delivered milk from 3 to 9 a.m. for Claravale Guernsey Farm, a raw milk dairy between Los Gatos and Saratoga. At one point I could pinpoint virtually every street in Los Gatos, and Monte Sereno and Saratoga as well.

Monte Sereno is about 1/4 inch off Saratoga-Los Gatos Road on my Mapquest map.

I might say that your cynicism runs a bit deeper than mine, it seems from your comment.

And I did say "Take it or leave it."

Posted by Tail end of the baby boomers, a resident of ,
on Aug 29, 2009 at 6:55 pm


Thank you for sharing your history and insights. Did you actually deliver individual bottles of milk to peoples' homes in the early '60s? or was it big metal jugs to be processed elsewhere? It would be nice to have a history of when things like that changed. My Dad grew up in the 20's and he would talk about the iceman coming to make his delivery. A rally being over reported by a factor of ten is a lesson and given the passage of time and imaging the fellow reporting makes me smile. He lost his credibility and thus paid for this lapse for the remainder of his time living there or his life. Now I am sure you get flooded with cell phone pictures instantaneously for anything that happens and it is a case of sifting through the deluge rather than a lack of documentation. Also, thank you for sharing the image of the admiral proudly installing the flagpole. I am printing out your post to share with my Mom tomorrow.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Aug 31, 2009 at 12:14 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Actually, yes, on the individual glass quart bottles. The cream at the neck was thick enough to whip. Wire containers carried six bottles at once. And we delivered butter, cottage cheese, orange juice, eggs, pure cream and some other items. Some people had me come inside their house (at 5 or 6 a.m.), check their refrigerator and restock what was missing, moving the older stuff to the front. Kenneth Peake, who owned the dairy, started delivering milk during the Great Depression on his bicycle.

I believe there's still a few home-delivery folks around. The Weekly did an article on one of them not too long ago.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Aug 31, 2009 at 12:23 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

P.S. to Tail End: You might check out our cover story on Roger Piers, whose father, Manuel, or M.I. Piers, was deep in the dairy and milk-delivery business in Palo Alto for many years. We had a sidebar on the history of local dairy operations: www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/morgue/2005/2005_08_10.cv10side1.shtml .

Posted by Boris, a resident of ,
on Sep 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Teddy Kennedy American Traitor

Author, Paul Kengor, unearthed a document from the Soviet archives. A memo regarding an offer made by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts hand delivered by former California Senator John Tunney, to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, USSR, Yuri Andropov, in 1983.

What could that be, you say, recipes for awesome vodka martinis or perhaps sailing tips, or maybe the best pick-up lines to use around babushkas at the dacha? Hardly.

From the book: The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism by Kengor, references the Kennedy plan on page 206, and includes the complete Soviet memo, dated May 14, 1983, in the Appendix. Web Link

>>If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y. V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interview. Specifically, the board of directors of ABC, Elton Raul and the television columnists Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters could visit Moscow. The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side. <<

Posted by Gordon, a resident of ,
on Sep 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Jay, thanks for the geography lesson and thanks for the original article, I really enjoyed. I didn't mean to come across as a cynic; my post was just for a laugh. I now live in Los Gatos, about 2-3 blocks from the Monte Sereno city hall and grew up in Saratoga, but I never remember hearing that road called Saratoga Ave. I think we just referred to it as highway 9.
BTW I did attend a JFK speech/rally held in the parking lot at the old San Jose Civic Center, but I missed Ted in Monte Sereno.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Backhaus in Burlingame finally opens for the holiday rush
By The Peninsula Foodist | 1 comment | 2,500 views

Fun Things to Do Around the Bay This Holiday – Peninsula Edition
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,088 views

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 1,659 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 15 comments | 1,396 views