Grisamore: Name recognition no problem for JFK

May 15, 2014 

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy has been elected president more than once.

He was president of his senior class at Adrian High School. He was president of his fraternity, Sigma Nu, during his college days at Mercer University.

Although he lost in his bid for president of the Student Government Association his junior year at Mercer, he had the most talked-about sign on campus.

A large banner stretched across the student center: “Vote John F. Kennedy for President.”

Now, the man who can raise eyebrows simply by ordering JFK monogrammed towels is running for the Georgia state Senate in District 18. Name recognition is not a problem.

This has been a political primary season with several candidates riding the coattails of famous family names.

Michelle Nunn, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. Jason Carter, a Democrat running for governor, is the grandson of former President (and Georgia governor) Jimmy Carter.

Kennedy has no such bloodlines. In fact, he’s a KINO. (Kennedy In Name Only.)

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, was a liberal Democrat from the Northeast and a devout Catholic.

John Flanders Kennedy, a Macon attorney who lives in Bolingbroke, is a conservative Republican from south Georgia and a member of Ingleside Baptist Church.

President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, two years before this JFK was born.

John majored in economics at Mercer before going to law school. If he had a dime for every wisecrack he has heard about his name, he could balance the budget.

He has been asked if his wife is named Jackie.

He has been warned not to ride in a convertible or travel to Dallas, Texas.

He has endured a few jokes about Camelot.

He has a friend who calls him “John John.”

“Try getting a pizza delivered to your house when your name is John F. Kennedy,” he said, laughing. “I’ve been hung up on before. When I told them my name they said, ‘Yeah, right’ and hung up.”

Once, while staying at a hotel in Atlanta, he called the front desk to request a wake-up call.

“Thank you, Mr. Kennedy,” the operator said. “Now may I ask you a question? Are you THE John F. Kennedy?”

It was nothing more than a name on a birth certificate back on Aug. 20, 1965, when John was the second of three sons born to Donald and Peggy Kennedy.

He was named John after John Patterson Kennedy, his paternal grandfather. Flanders was his mother’s maiden name.

Adrian is halfway between Dublin and Swainsboro on U.S. 80. It’s one of those small towns where you don’t have to use your blinker because everybody knows where you’re going. John laughs and says growing up in Adrian, folks would watch Andy Griffith and Mayberry to “see how city folks live.”

The late Donald Kennedy was the town doctor. “He delivered all the babies, cared for the sick and made house calls,” John said.

He said he’s not sure his parents realized there would be such a fascination with the name John F. Kennedy all these years later.

It wasn’t until John left for Mercer that the name caused much of a stir.

“In high school, we only had 30 people in my graduating class,” he said. “There weren’t that many Johns. We had one Jeff and one James and one David. When somebody said John Kennedy, that was me, not the president.”

He graduated from Mercer law school and is now the managing partner at the Macon law firm of James-Bates-Brannan-Groover.

He has been married to Susan Eberhardt of Macon for 20 years. (For the record, they named their children Katherine and Will -- not Caroline and John John.)

Over the years, I have written stories about some local folks with names like Rhett Butler, Dale Murphy, Scott Peterson, Jimmy Stewart and George Bush. They, too, had plenty of stories to tell.

John was contacted by a news reporter in 1999 when John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed after the plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

“They found my name in the phone book and asked me what I thought,” John said. “I told them I had a pilot’s license, but I had no unique perspective just because my name was John F. Kennedy. There has always been this assumption that I chose the name, have studied his life and know everything about him.”

When he announced his candidacy and the first red, white and blue signs started appearing, there was plenty of reason for curiosity upon closer inspection.

“Early in the campaign, some people thought it was a joke,” he said. “They were glad to find out I was a real person.”

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.

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