The Speech I Gave on the 40th Anniversary

by Robert Proctor

Ten years ago, Robert Proctor shared these thoughts, and he shares them with us again today:

Today, Saturday, November 22nd, marks the 40th year that has passed since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Four decades ago I was 10,000 miles, two cultures and certainly a half-century in time removed from the horrific events in Dallas, Texas. College classes had just ended for the day at the Nepali college where I was teaching, and I had joined several Nepali colleagues for a mid-afternoon tea.

PROCTOR and SHRESTHAS FIVE Kathmandu 63

Bob Proctor with friends, Nepal, 1963

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We were chatting amiably about inconsequential things – some new books just arrived from India, the upcoming marriage of a fellow botany professor’s daughter, and as always, a word or two about how lovely the weather was this harvest time of year. And how we could see, from our rooftop terrace, the wonder of a many centuries-old city spread out before us to the west, and because of the clarity of air this time of year, distant villages, with their stacks of harvested grains, clinging to the mountain slopes that surrounded the Kathmandu Valley. They seemed close enough to touch. Our utter shock can be imagined when another teacher rushed to join us and, with hardly disguised anguish in her voice, said “Kennedy has been shot. He is dead.”

For an incredible moment in time, on that sun-warmed terrace during an otherwise idyllic afternoon, there were no “Americans” or “Nepalis,” “Westerners” or “Easterners.” There was just a unity of profound sorrow and loss.

I was to teach one more year in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer in what would prove to be the experience of a lifetime, thanks to the life – and vision – of a man whose brain was tunneled by an assassin’s bullet four decades ago. Do I owe this man a debt? Oh, yes. An unrepayable one.

>>Visit our JFK Home Page for 50 facts you may not have known about Nov. 22, 1963

Thanks to John F. Kennedy’s life, my life since the Peace Corps experience has unfolded with rewards totally beyond previous imagination. Of course, nothing can make up for the years he lost. But when one considers the good that has come from the tens of thousands of years given in service overseas by my fellow Peace Corps volunteers over the decades, I’m sure that if President Kennedy were alive today, he would consider his efforts well rewarded, and his tragically shortened life blessed with great achievements beyond his own.

Robert Proctor on Poets and Writers Magazine

Bob Proctor today

President Kennedy may be long dead. But no one, especially this Peace Corps volunteer, believes his spirit is dead. On the contrary, I suggest it flourishes quite well, notably in a place that I remember with great fondness, 10,000 miles, a half century of time and two cultures away.

-Robert W. Proctor

Peace Corps Nepal, 1962-1964
La Luz, N.M.

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And one more personal note:

Although there were many other factors that led to what happened to me after 1963, thanks to President Kennedy and the Peace Corps he founded I returned to Nepal in 1979 with the Foreign Service and met and married my wife, Etrennes, originally from India. And together, we started a life together and me a career (including three years in Calcutta) that, even two decades after retirement, would continue to reward us both beyond anything we could ever have imagined.

 

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