The unsung life of JFK's valet

The unsung life of JFK's valet

Barbara Perry and Alfred Reaves IV reveal unknown details about President Kennedy's valet, George Thomas

[Read the full article at TIME]

On a grim November day 55 years ago, George E. Thomas dressed President John F. Kennedy for the last time. The president’s loyal valet, laboring through his ineffable grief, methodically attended to the man lying before him in a coffin, careful to make one final adjustment to Kennedy’s handkerchief so it would look just the way the president always insisted, with the monogram concealed.

Just a few hours earlier, as JFK departed Air Force One and stepped into the bright Dallas sunlight on November 22, 1963, he had paused to quip with Thomas: “You know, George, I think this is a bigger town than you come from.”

Indeed, Thomas hailed from tiny Berryville, Virginia (population 1,645 in 1960), a picturesque town in the Shenandoah Valley, 60 miles from the nation’s capital. A few weeks ago, we journeyed there, on a mission to talk with those who knew him and to raise an interesting man from his status as an obscure footnote in presidential history.

The memory of this character in the life of the 35th president remains alive among his Berryville neighbors and friends. They still speak warmly of “Mr. George” and “John F.,” as the valet affectionately called JFK. They point with pride at 21 Bundy Street, the modest bungalow that was Thomas’s family home away from his “home” with the Kennedy family. Thomas returned there every weekend he was not on duty as a “gentleman’s gentleman” in Washington.

As Joan Payne, a Berryville resident who grew up in the house next door, poignantly observed: “This man who came from our little town went on to work in the White House for the President of the United States, but was never recognized for his achievements.”

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