During presidential campaigns, memories from my yesterdays come floating back. As a young radio reporter and politician myself, I got to meet and interview several presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Each candidate left lasting impressions, but some more than others.

I met Richard Nixon early in his career for an interview at the old Elm Hotel in Auburn. Nixon was reserved, seemingly introverted by personality. I remember his demeanor as courteous and accommodating.

But the one thing I noted most was his handshake. Nixon’s was extremely weak. My father had always told me: “Son, you can tell a man from the firmness of his handshake.” (I remember how firmly dad somehow held my hand as he passed.)

Henry Cabot Lodge lived up to his image of aloofness. From the land of the “Cabots and Lodges, the Bean and the Cod,” he was a real Yankee Bostonian. Lodge acted impatient with the interview and the questions.

Edward Kennedy, who tried but failed to knock off incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980, acted pretty indifferent during his interview with me. I was struck, however, by his obvious intellect and command of the issues. Teddy displayed an aggressive personality and steely resolve to make his points clearly understood.

Then there was Hubert Humphrey, whom I remember from an interview along the fence-line at the Augusta airport. He had a vivacious personality. Humphrey didn’t become president, but he won me over on that day long ago with his graciousness and warmth.


My toughest interviews came with Maine’s own Edmund Muskie. The man who came close to the presidency did not suffer fools gladly. I got away with some of my questions during a football game interview, but later I wasn’t so lucky. Ed, who had a real temper, abruptly decided to terminate an interview at WABK when he didn’t like one of my questions. Unfortunately, his temper and fierce loyalty to wife Jane, may have contributed to depriving him of a chance at the presidency, when he wept in the snow while defending her in Manchester, New Hampshire.

During a long career in radio and TV broadcasting in Maine and the Midwest, I was privileged to interview many major political candidates and sports celebrities, but one stands out vividly in my memory, with great fondness.

That interview was my very first with a candidate for president of the United States.

News is one of my passions, so when I learned that John Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, was coming to Lewiston, I asked to be assigned, as a young broadcaster, to cover the big event.

It was the final weekend just before the 1960 election: Nixon vs. Kennedy.

If elected, Kennedy would become the youngest, and first Catholic, U.S. president.


The scene unfolded in the park that now carries Kennedy’s name.

It was a cold, blustery, early November night in Lewiston. Thousands began arriving in that predominantly Catholic community from miles around.

I had to park a mile away, walking to the site with my equipment, working my way through the throng to a gazebo located in the park’s center, which would act as the platform for a speech from the young senator from Massachusetts.

A light snow began to fall. The crowd, shivering, shouted in cadence, “We want Kennedy.”

He was late — midnight approached. Suddenly, the atmosphere turned surreal.

People had candles to the rally. Hundreds were lighting them — a soft, ever-increasing glow pierced the dark night air, and the park was alive with candlelight. Somehow it just didn’t feel cold anymore.


Then, he was there. From my position in front of the gazebo, I wondered if he would stop for me and my microphone.

“Sen. Kennedy — Don Roberts, WCOU News, welcome to Lewiston, Maine.”

Jack Kennedy, tanned and relaxed, responded to me by name in his familiar, clipped Massachusetts accent,

“Thank you, Don, sorry I’m late, but glad to be here as we conclude our campaign.”

I was struck by the attractiveness of this man with the movie star persona.

Patiently, with great personal charm and charisma, Kennedy, a confident underdog, answered my questions. Then he was gone — passing into the pages of fated history.

I shall always remember the warmth, love and unity arising from that wonderfully positive event, a political rally full of hope.

It was the unforgettable “Night of the Candles,” when JFK made a stop in Maine, on his way to immortality.

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.

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