Doherty memoir sheds light on Kennedy friendships

About a minute had passed since Gerard Doherty welcomed me into his office on Franklin Street in Boston, and he had already launched into one of his favorite stories about the Kennedy brothers, one involving Ted Kennedy and a bathtub in central Massachusetts.

“Ted was accustomed to soaking in a tub every afternoon for half an hour to relax,” Doherty said. “It was toward the end of a long day of campaigning and we were in a small, remote town in central Mass when he urged me to find a tub for him. We came upon a home and I walked up and knocked on the front door and explained the situation. The man who answered didn’t believe me!”

In the end, the confused homeowner obliged after seeing Kennedy in the flesh, providing Doherty with a particularly entertaining anecdote, one of many in his new book, “They Were My Friends—Jack, Bob and Ted.”

Doherty, 89, has long been an eminent figure in Boston’s political realm. A Charlestown native, he has been many things: state representative, Democratic Party chairman in Massachusetts, lawyer, real estate broker. But most notably, he was a political advisor, strategist, and campaign manager who worked on the front lines for President John F. Kennedy, US attorney general and US Senator Robert Kennedy, and US Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Doherty has seen a lot and done even more, in the process amassing a wealth of political and life wisdom over the years, as well as quite a few good stories to tell.

His storytelling takes center stage in the autobiographical memoir, which spans the nearly ten decades of his life, recounting whimsical moments like the bathtub saga with bemused candor while recalling moments of tragedy with grace.

Doherty touches on each of the many phases of his life, including his education at Harvard and beyond, his bout with tuberculosis as a young man, and his first foray into politics.

Employing a matter-of-fact narrative voice, he works his way through the throngs of people who have made an impact on his life in one way or another, revealing a complex web of personal connections at the center of which he often found himself.

From his childhood days playing sandlot football to his experience campaigning door to door as a state representative, Doherty presents an intimate portrait of his hometown, its Irish Catholic history, and its complicated political past.

From his stories of success on the campaign trail, it’s clear that the political savvy he learned in Charlestown proved useful on both the state and national level. Doherty’s boldness and creativity were instrumental in a number of political victories, including one in Indiana during RFK’s presidential campaign when Doherty, in what he calls “a Machiavellian idea,” solicited the help of a local marching band to help rally support and gather signatures at community churches.

In addition to its treasure trove of stories and anecdotes, “They Were My Friends” also includes a number of previously unreleased photographs from Doherty’s personal collection, many of which hang on the wall in his office. One memorable photo depicts Ted Kennedy reaching up to shake the hand of a lineman perched halfway up a telephone pole. The book is full of presentations like these – rare, candid glimpses into the lives of the Kennedys from someone who maintained a close relationship with the family for decades on end.

The JFK Library hosted a conversation with Doherty and WGBH’s Jim Braude on Oct. 15. At the conclusion, Braude read the one line from the book that he thought to be “wildly untrue.” Doherty was recalling a meeting with two politicians during which he was forced to stall. He writes, “I then did something I do quite well. I talked for a very long time without saying anything of consequence.”

Whether this was Doherty being transparent or simply modest, readers of his book will find at the end that they have learned a great deal about a figure who has permanently cemented his legacy as a significant figure in Boston and American politics.