Meeting Mr. Kennedy

In 1966, when I was a very shy 14 year old teenager, Rotary House was used primarily by the Southern Alberta Pioneers and Descendants (SAPD) for entertaining luncheons and teas.  My mom was on the Board of Directors of the SAPD and through her encouragement I reluctantly volunteered my services at Rotary House as a waitress during Stampede Week that year. It was first job, and my mom thought it would be something I could put on a resume, and it would also help me to overcome my shyness.

Little did I know that my first day on the job would turn out to be one of the most memorable, and exciting days of my entire life. 

On the Monday of Stampede week right after the Stampede Parade ended, a group of celebrities who rode in the parade arrived at Rotary House for a luncheon. One of my jobs that day was to serve the coffee and tea. I will never forget walking around the long banquet table with a pot of tea in one hand and pot of coffee in the other going from one guest to the next.  I approached Robert Kennedy and politely asked, “would you like coffee or tea Sir?”

He turned around and looked me right at me.  I was suddenly mesmerized by his intense eyes.  They were a hazel –blue colour like nothing I’d ever seen. Combined with his golden tan and his friendly white grin I’m sure that he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen in my life.   He answered, “sure honey, I’ll have some coffee please.”  It was all I could do to not dump the entire pot of coffee into his lap. My heart felt like it was about to explode. Two years later, when I heard the news that he had been killed, I felt devastated.

Also at the banquet table that day was James Drury, who was a famous western movie and TV star. Back then the Stampede always tried to bring in a famous western movie star to ride in the parade. When he entered the room he was exactly what I imagined a real cowboy should look like. He towered over everyone in the room. He was dressed totally in black, boots, cowboy hat, shirt and jeans. He was also very handsome too, but there was no comparison to Robert Kennedy.

My final encounter and favourite memory from that day was with Burl Ives, the famous folk singer who is best known for narrating the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer short animated TV show that is shown every year around Christmas time. After the luncheon was finished I was invited to go outside onto the lawn in front of Rotary House and sit on a blanket that was spread out. There were about 6 other children, including my sister Laurie, seated on the blanket with me.  We weren’t told why we were being gathered there but a few minutes later, Burl Ives came out, carrying his guitar, and sat down on the blanket with us. He began to give us an impromptu private concert.  I remember that he sang all of his famous hits: It’s Just My Funny Way of Laughing, Itty Bitty Tear, Silver and Gold, Mocking Bird Hill, but when he began to sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer a crowd began to gather around us. Burl encouraged everyone to sing along with him and ended his little concert with “It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas.

Somehow it didn’t feel strange at all to be singing Christmas songs despite the fact that it was a very hot day sitting out in the blazing hot July sun.

Kathy Babiuk