by Art Shay
|Robert McNamara in 1956, about to become CEO of Ford later on in 1960, outside Ford Building. VP Lewis Crusoe is at left. McNamara is better remembered for his nefarious role during the Vietnam War. © Art Shay|
(Swans - August 24, 2009)
"He was shaving when the president called," Margaret McNamara said, letting me and
my Times photo gear into their Birmingham, Michigan, livingroom.
"We were drinking Martinis. Do you want one while you're setting up?
I know you met him at Ford in 1953. He loves the book you did and your
picture of him in Fortune. That's why he took your call. You said the magic
word -- Ford." Sitting next to the warm fluttering lady whose life was about
to transfer to Washington forever (to do much for needy children, as it turned out) I
sweated cold for no discernible reason. I mindlessly thought the arcane word: doom.
I would be right, eventually, because this precise moment in this precise man's precise
life, far from anything I'd precisely learned going to war instead of college
would be the infant step leading to McNamara's ultimate march of 56,000 kids like yours and
mine to death. So much for taking violent evasive action based on prescient knowledge.
How could the Mustang, Thunderbird and automation Whiz Kid
drop Ford and become Hiz Kid?
A few days earlier peripathetic me
(so pitiably full of peace, ideals, famous pictures to be,
and paid travel) had sprinted to a Dakota farm like an administration Chicago vulture,
swooping in to photograph and tell George McGovern
he was to be our next secretary of agriculture.
Poor George, a flyboy like me,
would be bombed out of Ag consideration and into the Senate
before he saw a lea.
As the defense-secretary-to-be chatted with JFK in the bathroom -- I could hear young Jack's
Bahston accent on the speakerphone when he mentioned "sticky-buns and caffeee in the
West Wing day after tmorrugh" and I could feel the stir of history in my instinct's loins.
(All photography of celebrities and politicians is a loining experience.)
I loaded high speed Ektachrome into Nikon and Leica and Mrs. McNamara
shut the bathroom door and moved to sit uncomfortably on the suitcase
she'd been packing.
"You've been around, young man," she said. "Tell me -- I don't know a soul in
Washington. When we get there -- my God, tomorrow -- will we be invited to the best
parties?" I answered speciously, turning PR man for Time in this fey historic
wind, tactfully tacking.
I reassured her -- invoking the party-mad Kennedys so artfully -- that by the time RSM
sat down to pose, her smile was equal to the piranha panorama
on the face of her Whiz Kid husband, soon-to-be her escort at the A-list Kennedy parties
hanging on the ultimate Vietnam executioner's arm
of Secretary of Defense Robert Strange (love?) McNamara.
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