I’m standing behind the big pile of dirt that will serve as a makeshift stage for the musicians and speakers. Just dialing in the camera and checking the gear before the rally officially starts. Bobby Kennedy Jr and his family come around the corner of the makeshift stage and almost run into me. Quickly I lower the lens on him and squeeze off a couple of photos. When I’m finished, he looks at me, smiles and says, “You’re Jerry Nelson, aren’t you?”
I smile, nod politely as we shake hands and I tell him, “It’s good to meet you Bobby”. Moving out of his way, he climbs the berm and begins to give a moving speech to the 1200 or so spectators.
We were at Blair, West Virginia for the March to Blair Mountain. My chance encounter with Kennedy occurred about one and a half mile from the center of the Blair Mountain Battlefield – the site of the largest insurrection in the country since the Civil War.
I won’t go into the details about the original battle that took place in 1921. You can find references to it all over the internet. Besides, the purpose of this blog is not to rehash the battle.
Before and after Kennedy spoke there were some musicians, singers and other speech makers. But he was easily the highlight of the rally.
Following the rally, he and his family changed into hiking clothes and met the marchers at the top of Blair Mountain. Just feet away from some of the heaviest fighting in the 1921 battle.
They didn’t stick around long. After a few shots of them around the Battlefield Marker, Bobby walked one direction to his Jeep and his family walked the other direction to their car.
While everyone’s attention was turned to the speaker with the megaphone, I turned and saw Bobby Kennedy Jr. walking solitarily down the mountain road towards his Jeep.
Something about that sight clicked in me and I squeezed off one more shot.
Here was a man whose father was assassinated in 1968 during his run for the Presidency. One of his uncles was President until he too was shot down by an assassin. Another of his uncles contemplated running for the Presidency until a little episode called Chappaquiddick knocked him out of the running also.
So what clicked in me? I’m not sure really. But something did. This man, who is not that much older than me, who has walked around the circles of greatness and fame, recognized me and knew my name. Doesn’t say as much about me, as it does about him. I guess that’s why when I saw him, as a solitary figure, walking back to his Jeep, it caught my eye.
Suddenly he wasn’t an heir to greatness, fame and fortune. He was just one solitary man, on a mountain road, leading a solitary life trying to make a difference in the world.