Five women whose lives were changed by the Kennedy assassination

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by GLORIA CAMPOS / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on April 23, 2013 at 9:02 AM

DALLAS — November 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

All year long, we'll be examining that November day and the 50 Novembers that followed — the issues... the progress.

November 22 had an impact on the lives of a few people we rarely talk about — the women who were thrust into the spotlight.

Five women, five lives, forever connected through tragedy.

Just moments after the Kennedys basked in the glow of adoring crowds, darkness enveloped Jaqueline Kennedy as she sat alone outside the Parkland Hospital operating room.

Lady Bird Johnson described it in her diaries:

"She was quite alone. I don't think I ever saw anybody so much alone in my life. I went up to her, put my arms around her, and said something to her. I'm sure it was quite banal like, 'God help us all.'"

After consoling Mrs. Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson rushed to comfort her old friend, Nellie Connally, first lady of Texas.

"I hugged her tight and we both cried, and I said, 'Nellie, it's going to be all right.' And Nellie said, 'Yes, John is going to be all right.'"

Waiting at the Dallas Trade Mart for an address President Kennedy would never deliver, friends Jan Sanders and Federal Judge Sarah Hughes listened to the chaos unfold on the radio.

"That's what they were hearing on the transistor radio... they were tracking when was he going to walk in the door here. Then, of course, it began to change... that news report began to change; something has happened," Sanders said.

It would be Judge Hughes who — within minutes — would deliver the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson in an impromptu and grim ceremony aboard Air Force One at Love Field.

Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson stood nearby.

Hughes later recorded her thoughts for the University of North Texas.

"I was also thinking, 'I must not keep my mind on Kennedy; I must think about the future, because the country has to go on.'"

Hughes is the only woman in U.S. history to administer the oath of office to a president.

At the same time, Marie Tippit was home with her son when she learned that her husband, Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit, had been shot and killed, pulling her into a national tragedy that shaped her life.

"A total shock, a total shock... it's just a shocking thing, like this can't be happening," she said. "This has got to be a nightmare — which it was — but it was real."

And as she mourned the death of her husband, the nation mourned the death of a president.

"This happens in foreign countries; this doesn't happen here," Jan Sanders said. "It certainly doesn't happen in Dallas, even though there is this hateful environment.. there was this hateful environment."

Jan Sanders, wife of then-U.S. Attorney Barefoot Sanders, and Judge Hughes created the John F. Kennedy Memorial Book Fund based on their admiration for the slain president. Their goal was to enlighten Dallas school children about the presidency.

Marie Tippit has her own remembrance: A letter and framed photograph from Jacqueline Kennedy.

"We share the same bond," Mrs. Tippit said.

It's a bond only two widows could share on the same dark day in Dallas.

E-mail gcampos@wfaa.com

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