Reporter who kicked gun from RFK’s killer dies
BOSTON — A longtime reporter and editor for the Boston Globe who is credited with kicking the gun from the hand of Sen. Robert Kennedy’s assassin has died. Robert L. Healy was 84.
The Boston Globe says Healy died Saturday of a massive stroke at his home in Jupiter, Fla. He had served at the paper as executive editor, Washington bureau chief, political editor and columnist.
Healy was the last reporter to speak to Kennedy the night of his assassination in June 1968. He is credited with kicking the gun from the hand of Sirhan Sirhan after the assassin was wrestled to the floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
A gregarious and energetic inside player, Mr. Healy played touch football with Robert F. Kennedy. He was a tennis partner of Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff. Eugene McCarthy unsuccessfully recruited Mr. Healy to manage his 1968 presidential campaign. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of former House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr.
In 1977, one of Mr. Healy’s admirers, the Washington Post’s David Broder, said he had “as many drinking buddies among important politicians as any reporter around.’’
Mr. Healy was sometimes criticized for being too cozy with the powerful, especially the Kennedy family. “The Kennedy years were a once-in-a-lifetime situation for a reporter,’’ Mr. Healy wrote in a 1988 valedictory column.
A touchstone for Mr. Healy’s critics was his role in a celebrated — some would say inglorious — moment in Globe history.
Edward M. Kennedy was running for the Senate in 1962 for the first time. Mr. Healy learned that Kennedy had been expelled as a Harvard undergraduate for cheating on an examination. In three sessions held in the Oval Office, Mr. Healy negotiated with President John F. Kennedy, the candidate’s brother, over release of the story. The upshot was the Kennedys would cooperate if the story was played below the fold on Page One (that is, on the lower half of the front page). Furthermore, it ran with the innocuous headline, “Ted Kennedy tells about Harvard examination incident.’’
Yet, Mr. Healy’s work as reporter, editor, and columnist on the nomination of Boston Municipal Court Judge Francis X. Morrissey to the federal bench not only helped earn the Globe its first Pulitzer Prize, in 1966, it also created a very public embarrassment for the Kennedys.
Morrissey was a longtime Kennedy crony. In 1961, rumors circulated he was being considered for a federal judgeship. Mr. Healy revealed Morrissey had twice failed the Massachusetts bar exam and had gained admittance to the Georgia bar under dubious circumstances.
Four years later, sponsored by Edward Kennedy, Morrissey was nominated. Mr. Healy played a leading role in a 10-man Globe team that found further irregularities in his professional past. The nomination was ultimately withdrawn, and the Globe was awarded the Pulitzer gold medal for meritorious public service
Healy was known for his liberal politics and earned a place on the White House enemies list during Richard Nixon’s administration.
During 1997 and ’98, Mr. Healy served as an adviser on the Northern Ireland peace talks to US Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and special negotiator George Mitchell. He was working on a book about the peace process at the time of his death.
During the 1970s, Mr. Healy taught a seminar at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on decision-making in the Kennedy White House. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“A great ride,’’ Mr. Healy called his career in his final regular column in December 1988. “I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.’’
Information from: The Boston Globe