Rare photos, memories: John F. Kennedy’s last Easter in Palm Beach


With Donald Trump scheduled to arrive today, it has been 54 years since a sitting president visited Palm Beach during Easter weekend.

JFK's last Easter was spent with family and friends in Palm Beach, where he sunned, sailed and left a dazzling impression on those who met him.

The last time was April, 1963, when John F. Kennedy and his family spent his last Easter on the island, near his father’s winter home on the north end.

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For two local residents, that time remains a vivid memory of their remarkable encounters with a glamorous president enjoying a casual weekend in the sun.

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On Easter afternoon, JFK, Jackie, their kids and a few friends were aboard the 92-foot presidential yacht off Palm Beach when a strange-looking, oddly-agile sailboat began buzzing the Honey Fitz.

“The Secret Service was in all these little boats, going crazy, yelling “stay away,” remembers Toni Briant Hollis, a Palm Beach real estate agent who was a 24-year-old passenger on the sailboat that day, along with five friends.“We were showing off, going back and forth trying to get the president’s attention. We wanted him to wave at us.”

The group’s twin-hulled “Pattycake” was one of the first catamarans on Lake Worth, remembers Hollis. The president and his close friend, Navy Under Secretary Paul “Red” Fay, both longtime sailors, were fascinated.

“Any chance for a ride?,” JFK shouted to the owner, 28-year-old boat designer Paul Lindenberg, according to the next day’s story in The Palm Beach Post.

After Hollis and two other friends transferred to the presidential yacht to make way for JFK and Fay, the president shucked his shoes and climbed aboard, taking the tiller for an estimated 23 mph thrill ride across the Intracoastal Waterway, pushed by a stiff spring wind.

As a sailor, JFK was “all right,” Lindenberg, who went on to become a successful yacht designer in Cocoa Beach, told The Post. “He knew how to sail. You could tell it.”

Hollis remembers her friends describing how JFK tried unsuccessfully to light a cigar while piloting a fast boat in a strong wind.

While the president sailed, Hollis was introduced to her idol, Jackie Kennedy, who was wearing a “little Lilly (Pulitzer) shift.

“She was so nice. I don’t remember what I said. It was a lot of hero worship, I can tell you that,” said Hollis, who was one of the dancers socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post hired for her Thursday night dance parties at Mar-a-Lago. “We did ballroom dancing for the first hour, then an hour of square dancing. We were paid $50 a night.”

After the sail, Hollis remembers seeing an exhilarated president standing barefoot on a seawall near the Honey Fitz dock, his pink pants soaked from salt spray.

The unexpected encounter with the youthful and attractive First Couple made Hollis and her friends locally famous for months.

“We’d say, ‘This is the hand that shook the president’s hand. It will cost you a dollar’,” she recalled.

>>Related: Photo gallery of President John F. Kennedy 1963 Easter in Palm Beach

Few knew that Jackie Kennedy was pregnant that weekend with a son, Patrick, who would live just two days after his birth in August. Although her pregnancy hadn’t been officially announced, The Post may have been alluding to rumors about it when a reporter wrote, “Mrs. Kennedy, who usually water skis and swims during Palm Beach vacations, did not go into the water.”

For Kathy Fay of Delray Beach, that golden weekend still shines brightly, more than half a century later.

Her father and JFK were World War II Navy buddies who both brought their families to Palm Beach that Easter, where they spent time at the north end house the Kennedys frequently rented.

Almost immediately, Jackie invited her on a shopping trip to Worth Avenue.

She was 15, shopping with the First Lady.

“We went to Lilly’s store and I got my first Lilly Pulitzer dress,” said Fay.

She’s wearing it in a photo taken by a White House photographer. Sitting around a messy kitchen table, Fay and her little sister, Sally, are dyeing Easter eggs with Jackie, also wearing a Lilly dress, Caroline and John John.

It was a sun-splashed weekend of bathing suits, sandy feet and wet hair in perfect Florida spring weather.

“It was just a family Easter except the family you were with was the family of the president of the United States,” said Fay.

She remembers how JFK and Jackie arranged their chaise lounges so they could sit close together on the patio. The president playing in the pool with his laughing little boy. The cast on Fay’s ankle the president signed — twice — after she got it wet swimming.

And, the nearly-private showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” that Jackie arrange for Fay and her brother, Paul, at the Paramount Theatre, afraid the older kids would be bored among the younger children.

“It was like a dream world, you couldn’t believe what you were doing. Jackie and the president made us feel so much a part of the family,” said Fay.

And, she recalls the jukebox that arrived from the Easter Bunny, sitting on a covered patio and wearing a “Happy Easter’ banner.

“I remember going over to try to figure a song to play. The president in his bathing suit saunters on over and says, “Now, Kathy, what kind of music do you like?’ He had these big blue eyes and I kind of got lost in them. He had a way of creating this amazing intimacy with anyone, making you feel you were the only person in the world.”

Fay pauses for a moment, trying to remember if she chose one of her favorites from Neil Sedaka or Johnny Mathis. Nope. It was another song, a romanticized lament of a sunny world gone too soon dark.

“It was probably ‘Camelot’,” said Fay. “That weekend, that was always playing.”



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