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When Presidents Played by the Rules

The old white marble D.C. Library is in a park in a rapidly gentrifying part of Washington in front of the new Convention Center. It is now partly a glittery Apple Store. We were driving by it the other night and it reminded me of my early days in Washington, the capital of the free world.

Fred Holborn, a friend and former college tutor of mine told me a story then about the library that was quintessentially American. Fred had written speeches and done research for JFK when Kennedy was in the Senate in the late 50s. He moved to the White House after the 1960 election and on a Saturday night in April 1962 got an unusual request from the President. JFK was having dinner the next night with winners of the Nobel Prize and asked Fred to find him a few books about Nobel.

Fred said he called the Library of Congress, but it was closed so he called the D.C. Library which was apparently open ‘til midnight. The librarian said the library did indeed have two books about Nobel, but they couldn’t let the President have them until the White House returned overdue books that the White House already had.

Fred dug around and found enough books to fill a box that he sent back to the D.C. library with a White House driver. The driver brought back the two books on Nobel around midnight and Fred sent them upstairs to the living quarters. On Sunday morning they were back on Fred’s desk with a thank

you note from JFK saying simply that the top book was better than the bottom one.

How times have changed.

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