Review: Posthumous memoir 'The Human Touch' follows friendship of John F. Kennedy and former Eagle editor – Berkshire Eagle

“The Human Touch: My Friendship and Work with President John F. Kennedy” 

“The Human Touch: My Friendship and Work with President John F. Kennedy” 
“The Human Touch: My Friendship and Work with President John F. Kennedy” by John G. W. Mahanna.
Published by Maurice Bassett Publishing.
190 pages
John Fitzgerald Kennedy never made it through his one term as president of the United States but his brief tenure and his life leading up to his presidency are well-chronicled. However, the Brookline native’s links to the Berkshires in the far west of his state are not as well known.
That has been addressed in a recently published posthumous memoir, “The Human Touch: My Friendship And Work With President John F. Kennedy” by John G. W. Mahanna.
In an introduction, Jonathan Mahanna, the son of the late John G. W. Mahanna, explains that the book is derived from his father’s manuscript found at his mother’s home in Florida. The senior Mahanna, a native of Lenox and a long-time reporter and editor for The Berkshire Eagle, became a friend and confidante of his fellow Navy veteran JFK through a fortuitous circumstance.
John G.W. Mahanna had taken a leave from his job as county editor of The Eagle for amphibious duty with the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Assigned following that service to the Office of Naval Intelligence in San Francisco, he went to a hotel where a room had been supposedly reserved for him only to find that the hotel was full.
Mahanna recounts that he went to another hotel where he sat waiting in the lobby for a room cancellation when he was approached by a tall, handsome gentleman carrying a cane who noted Mahanna’s forlorn demeanor and asked if he could help. It was Jack Kennedy. The men soon discovered they had both Massachusetts and Navy connections and Mahanna realized he was talking to the hero of PT-109, who had rescued crew members after the boat exploded and badly aggravated a back problem in the process. When informed by Mahanna of his plight, Kennedy went to the hotel desk and in short order a room for his new friend was found.
Mahanna returned to The Eagle after the war and met up again with the now U.S. Rep. Kennedy two years later in Washington D.C. The politically ambitious Kennedy, with designs on a U.S. Senate seat, wanted to know more about Berkshire County and asked if Mahanna could help him.
This was a simpler time, when newspapermen could have close personal relationships with politicians, and Mahanna began setting up personal appearances for Kennedy in the Berkshires. Later he would establish campaign headquarters for Kennedy and host him at the family residence.
“Human Touch” features a number of Berkshire anecdotes involving Kennedy. Pittsfield’s then 28-year-old mayor, Robert Capeless, a Navy veteran from a political family, found much in common with Kennedy upon meeting him and became an ally. When Kennedy decided to fly in to Pittsfield’s airport at night for an appearance, Mahanna recalled that supporters were asked to circle their cars around the runway and turn on their headlights to compensate for the airport’s poor lighting.
Ultimately, Mahanna left The Eagle to accept an appointment by Kennedy as a public information officer with the Office of Civil Defense in the Pentagon. He arrived in October of 1962, in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. The presidency of JFK would end abruptly in a little over a year.
The book’s title comes from Mahanna’s observations about JFK’s gift for connecting with people on his visits to the Berkshires, making their concerns the core of their conversations. “It was here I discovered one of the secrets of his success as a politician — the human touch,” writes Mahanna. It was that human touch that made the tragic loss of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963 so painful.
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