JFKWHP-AR6295-I (crop): Special Assistant to the President Kenneth P. O'Donnell, 25 January 1961

Kenneth O’Donnell’s relationship with the Kennedy family began at Harvard where he was Robert F. Kennedy's roommate. In 1946, RFK enlisted him to work for John F. Kennedy’s first congressional campaign. Mr. O’Donnell later played an important role in Kennedy’s election to the Senate over Henry Cabot Lodge, and went on to serve as the Senator’s unpaid political observer in Massachusetts. By 1958, Mr. O’Donnell had become a member of Senator Kennedy’s staff and in 1960, he was a key organizer of Kennedy’s presidential campaign. By virtue of his longtime association with the Kennedy family, Mr. O’Donnell was named White House Appointments Secretary, serving as President Kennedy’s political troubleshooter. Despite his commonplace title, Mr. O’Donnell also unofficially advised the President during the planning for the Bay of Pigs invasion as well as during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Mr. O’Donnell went on to serve as a Presidential Aide to Lyndon Johnson until 1965, and co-authored a memoir of President Kennedy in 1972.

1924 Born, Worcester, Massachusetts

1942 – 1945 U.S. Airforce

1946 John F. Kennedy congressional campaign

1949 A.B., Harvard College

1950 – 1951 Boston College Law School

1951 – 1952 Salesman, Hollingsworth and Whitney, Boston, Massachusetts

1952 John F. Kennedy campaign for Senate

1952 – 1957 Public relations work

1957 – 1959 Assistant Counsel, Select Committee to Investigate Improper Activities in Labor-Management Relations, U.S. Senate

1958 Director of Campaign Organization, John F. Kennedy re-election campaign for Senate

1960 Organizer and Director of John F. Kennedy presidential campaign schedule

1961 – 1965 Special Assistant to the President

1964 Executive Director, Democratic National Committee

1965 Candidate for the democratic nomination for Governor of Massachusetts

1965 – 1977 President, Kenneth P. O'Donnell and Co. (management consulting firm)

1968 Campaign Manager, Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign; Hubert Humphrey presidential campaign

1970 Candidate for the democratic nomination for Governor of Massachusetts

1977 Died


“Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (with David F. Powers and Joe McCarthy), 1972.


"Kenneth Patrick O'Donnell." Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 10: 1976-1980. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995.