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Revisiting Camelot: A Baylor Alum’s Memory of the Kennedys

By Claire Moncla

The year 1963 was one of change. The Beatles released their first album. France and Germany signed the Elysée Treaty. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But perhaps the most momentous event of 1963 was the assassination of John F. Kennedy— a tragedy that took place about a hundred miles north of Baylor campus in Dallas.

One Baylor alumna was so moved by the tragedy that she wrote former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy a heartfelt letter. Forty-seven years later, her letter is part of a new book released in October.

Penny Griffin Dyer ’72 was thirteen years old when she penned a letter to Jackie Kennedy from her childhood home in Waco. Dyer said she wrote the letter because she had seen the Kennedys just before President Kennedy was shot. “I have a vivid memory of them,” she said. “We went to Love Field in Dallas, and we were standing at the fence and saw them exit the airplane.”

Later, as Dyer’s family left Love Field, they heard the shocking news on the radio: the president had been shot. “It had such an impact on me because I was faced with the brevity and uncertainty of life,” Dyer said. She said her sensitivity prompted her to write the letter just two months after the assassination. “I wanted to communicate and reach out to Jackie Kennedy,” Dyer explained.

Almost three years ago, Jay Mulvaney, an author researching a book about the assassination, contacted Dyer. “He had gone through 800,000 letters of correspondence to Jackie Kennedy in the days and weeks following the assassination,” she said, “and he had decided to compile letters of people from all walks of life.” Mulvaney asked Dyer’s permission to include her letter in his book.

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 includes Dyer’s letter, printed alongside letters from famous figures such as Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II, as well as writers like Ezra Pound and Langston Hughes. “I thought he did a good job including people from different perspectives,” Dyer said.

The date of the assassination holds special meaning for Dyer. “There were three great men who died on that day: Aldous Huxley, JFK, and C. S. Lewis,” she said. “But, the person who’s had the most effect on my life also died on November 22 a year ago, and that’s my dad.”

Dyer said her father has been a role model in her life. “My dad started at Baylor when I was six months old, so I’ve kind of cut my teeth on Baylor,” she said.

When she too became a Baylor student, Dyer made the most of her college experience. She was in Pi Beta Phi sorority, Mortar Board, and Student Foundation. Dyer was the student secretary for Abner McCall, and even roomed with his daughter, Kathleen, in Collins Residence Hall in 1968.

Looking back, Dyer said, Baylor friendships are ones that can always be picked up again. “There’s a foundation of fellowship at Baylor that’s timeless,” she said. “Baylor connections have influenced my life.”

Today, as the nation remembers past times of grief, Dyer said there is comfort in connections between friends or even little acts of kindness between strangers—sometimes as simple as a letter.

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