Dave Powers, Special Assistant to President John F. Kennedy, was closely associated in every aspect of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. In 1964, at the request of Robert F. Kennedy, Powers began assembling and collecting the Kennedy memorabilia which was to become part of the Library's permanent exhibit on the life and legacy of President Kennedy. He also traveled around the world with an exhibit of items to raise money for the construction of the Library.
In 1965, Powers moved the material to the National Archives Federal Record Center in Waltham, MA where he and a staff of archivists spent the next 14 years assembling and organizing the Kennedy collection. In 1979, the collection was moved into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Columbia Point. Powers held the position of Museum Curator of the Kennedy Library from 1964 until his retirement in May, 1994. He was an active member of the Board of Directors of the Kennedy Library Foundation.
David F. Powers was born on April 25, 1912 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. His father, John Powers, and his mother, Catherine (Green) Powers, were both born in County Cork, Ireland. His father died when he was two years old, and at age 10 he started selling newspapers in the Charlestown Navy Yard to help support his mother. He graduated from St. Catherine's in 1926, and from Charlestown High in 1930. After graduation he gave up his newspaper delivery business and went to work for Sampson and Murdock Publishing Company while also taking evening courses at Boston University, Harvard and Boston Institute. In 1941 he became a time-study analyst at Fort Devens, and in 1942 joined the 14th Air Force where he served in the China-Burma-India Theater until 1945.
In 1946 Powers was an unemployed veteran living in a three-decker in Charlestown with his widowed sister and ten children; his mother having died in 1942. It was there that young John F. Kennedy came on the evening of January 21, 1946, looking for help to run his first political campaign for Congress, and a friendship was formed that lasted until that tragic day in Dallas, November 22, 1963.
Dave Powers campaigned with John Kennedy in every one of Kennedy's political contests. He heard Kennedy's first political speech in Boston in 1946 and his last in Fort Worth in 1963. As a political operative in the working-class neighborhood of Charlestown, Powers helped Kennedy to win the 11th Congressional district seat in 1946. He was with Kennedy as he defeated Republican Henry Cabot Lodge in the 1952 Senate race. He accompanied him to the farms of Wisconsin and the hills of West Virginia in the Democratic Party's Presidential primaries; and from Maine to Alaska in the 1960 Presidential race against Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
When President John F. Kennedy moved into the White House on January 20, 1961 Dave Powers was with him as his Special Assistant. His duties were varied and included greeting distinguished guests, escorting them to the Oval Office and trying to keep the President on schedule. Powers' affability and endless supply of Irish wit and humor, coupled with sound political sense, were attributes which endeared him to the President, as did his amazing memory for sports and election statistics.
On April 25, 1962 President Kennedy gave Dave Powers a silver mug for a birthday gift with this inscription:
There are three things which are real: God, Human Folly and Laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.
Pierre Salinger, Kennedy's press secretary, said Powers was "the most gregarious and popular member of the staff." Kenneth O'Donnell, the President's Appointment Secretary, said of Powers, "Outside of Bobby, President Kennedy had one really close friend and that was Dave Powers." But of himself, Powers said simply, "I am just a newsboy who met a President."
When President Kennedy made his historic trips to Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and South America, Dave Powers was with him. Of Ireland, Powers recalled, "it was the happiest four days of John F. Kennedy's life." The saddest day of Dave Powers life was when he rode behind the President's car in the motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy, he said, "was the greatest man I ever met, and the best friend I ever had."
Powers was instrumental in making arrangements for the state funeral of the President and continued as a White House special assistant until January 1965 when he resigned to become curator of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In 1972 Powers co-authored with Ken O'Donnell the best-seller, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, a personal and nostalgic look at President Kennedy's life.
He lectured at schools all over the country, including Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, American University, the University of Chicago, Brandeis, University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State. A gifted storyteller, Powers would often end his lectures about his friendship with President Kennedy with a quote from a poem by Thomas Davis.
We are like sheep without a shepherd
When the snow shuts out the sky
Oh! Why did you leave us,
Why did you die?
Powers died on March 27, 1998. His funeral was attended by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and a host of close friends and colleagues.
Said Caroline Kennedy of her father's close friend:
Dave Powers was a loyal and devoted friend whom my mother and father adored. His love of life and laughter was infectious and he endeared himself to every member of our family. I will always be grateful for his personal kindness and for his tireless efforts on behalf of the Kennedy Library. It is difficult to lose such a good friend. He will always hold a treasured place in our hearts.