One Flash Moment in History

By Sophie Officer

It is a story that has been told thousands of times, and with just as many conspiracy theories to each telling, but in lieu of the 50th anniversary, I spoke to Lilla Officer on behalf of Celebrate Living History, about her experience when President John F Kennedy was shot, in Dealey Plaza, Dallas.


Lilla, who is an American expat, moved to Australia permanently in 1976 after a brief trip working as an nanny in country Victoria and has witnessed some of the key defining moments in both Australian and American history; though none so significant as the assassination of President Kennedy, on November 22, 1963.

“I had a job at Lord and Georges, outside of Morristown in New Jersey. I can remember picking up an order or having an order wrapped, and the girl behind the counter said “Kennedy’s been shot,” And all I thought was “He’ll be alright”, just in that flash moment, but within about fourteen minutes, the shop was empty. And I mean empty.

AP

AP

We had one order that day, and it was from the governors wife, to send over as many black dresses that we had in her size, with coats and hats, and when we got that order, we realised that he died.”

Describing the moment as eerie, Lilla caught the bus home with her sister that afternoon, where a group of school children were laughing and joking about it. As they got off the bus, they said how hilarious it was, because they would now get a republican president.

“I don’t think it hit those kids until the next morning, because all of a sudden they realised innocence is gone. It disappeared.”

When asked how this moment, or how the president represented innocence and the loss of it, Lilla explained that it was the turning point where the country realised, that in this day and age, you could kill a President.

“You had all the controversy over who did it and why, and who was behind it, and you see documentary and shows on SBS about his health and his life, his social life, and everything else, but we never discussed those things in those days. Did we know them? I think we did, I think my parents did. But I think you sort of just felt, where was it going to stop? Kennedy was all about prosperity, peace, that we could do it.”

She explained how phenomenal the Peace Core and Domestic Peace core movement was, and that while there are still many problems that exist with the native Indians, he gave them rights and attempted to move forward with significant changes for rights and civil rights.

“I can remember some people that would socialise with the Kennedys, and they would say ‘Oh well all the Catholic nuns will be voting now, and that’s how he’ll win the election,” but by the time he got to be the president, no one cared whether he was a Roman Catholic, it didn’t matter. That sort of disappeared, and it became more about doing things for other people, I think that’s what he gave us, and while I think some of it has stayed, I think a lot of it has been lost since. And I think that’s a shame. I think he broke all those barriers.”

Barriers, which as she felt had not been broken down in the same way in Australia.

“I think I was shocked when I first came to Australia, but maybe it was just the country, where you’d walk down the street and one side was Catholic and the other side was Protestant. I can remember going to the church and the Dutch minister said we weren’t supposed to look forward to the Popes visit to Australia…that it meant nothing -it as this and it was that…Well I almost got up and walked out of the church, but since I was in the first week of employment, I decided it was not the thing to do!”

“I just think you need to take your hat off to him for a lot of what he did, because there were some great things.”

With the 50th anniversary just around the corner, it is a time of great significance to Lilla, as she reflects on the five decades of aftermath, and what has happened in her home country of America, her home in Australia, and globally.

“I just think you need to take your hat off to him for a lot of what he did, because there were some great things.”