Editor’s note: The following is the second in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue.
Connie Burke’s Connecticut childhood was “a charmed life.” After college, she worked for NBC, married and had two children. Later, life took some dramatic turns.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Connie Burke stopped to discover “a bonanza” of Greek olives in our salad at our lunch in Southwick, Mass. She continued her story.
“We had a lot of people in our (New Haven and Hartford) neighborhoods, and women who did many interesting things,” Connie said. “We didn’t need a movement. When I was 5, I remember Prescott Bush in a casket at the Skull & Bones Society after returning from WWII. He was the senator from Connecticut, father of today’s Bushes.”
Connie’s talented mother connected her with many celebrated people. After prep school at Mt. St. Joseph in West Hartford, with classmates like Tom Dodd’s daughter, Connie attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C.
“Nancy Pelosi was a year ahead … she met Paul there,” Connie said. “Her best friend, my ‘big sister,’ was Martha Dodd, her brother is Chris. It was a singing school. I was the class song leader my junior and senior years. An elected office. You write music and lyrics for all the activities that have music … and stand and direct them. They were serious about singing, music, worshipping the Lord.”
“Sing a little,” I coaxed, knowing she’s a ham.
“Here’s to the class that claims our fame, here’s to our friendship strong; here’s to our merry college days of laughter and of song; here’s to our college best on earth, here’s to ’63; here’s to the rare and sterling worth, Trinity here’s to thee. Trinity, Trinity, our daughters can’t forget, the golden haze of college days … may pass away, and ever they will be …” she sang.
After college, Connie was invited to interview for a nanny position with Eunice Shriver at Hyannisport on Cape Cod.
“I wore pink gingham and linen,” she said. “Polly called and invited me to come to the Cape. The Kennedys always were looking. They have terrible problems getting governesses. They required people to come from certain kinds of backgrounds, particularly music. I got this call through a friend … girls from Georgetown.”
Connie met Polly at a Trinity banquet the year Robert Kennedy was to be the graduation speaker.
“Going to Cape Cod; I had to get secret letters of endorsement; I couldn’t tell anybody,” she said.
“Your eyes are getting bluer,” I noted. “Your pink face against your turquoise blouse make your eyes bluer, too.”
“I’m excited thinking about it,” she explained. “I haven’t been back in a while, mentally.”
Getting beyond security, she encountered Timmy.
“The important thing was interaction with the kids,” she said. “I came around the corner … that little Timmy, the youngest, on a tricycle … drove into (the Secret Service man’s) legs, and he had to stand still.
“First question: ‘Miss Burke, do you sing?’ “Remember, I was class song leader. I could have had the job; I turned it down,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Their governesses kept track of the transgressions of the children, but they would handle it (later),” she said. “With kids, you don’t get to do that.”
She describes lunch with the family: “At the long table (I don’t want to speak ill of the dead), I was so surprised.”
The Shrivers were there and Sidney Lawford, “a very pretty little blonde girl.”
After Timmy’s tricycle trick, another Kennedy child, Maria, “had this boulder about the size of our plates. I dropped my briefcase trying to interrupt that, and the French doors opened; out came Eunice. All I could think of was this rock over the head of the other one.”
Connie’s chat with a former governess warned her.
“Some wouldn’t be able to separate glamor and prestige from reality,” she said. “They didn’t spend the day there.
“Bobby had 10 or 11 kids by then, five years before he was killed,” she said. “She (Eunice) was a dishrag. I’m thinking, ‘How do I get out of this? My father will never speak to me again.’ I was a Democrat then. Eunice drove (her Lincoln convertible) like a bat out of hell.”
The Secret Service man said, “Miss Burke, you seem like a nice girl, don’t let them do all the looking.”
Turning down the job, Connie decided to accompany her friend Beth to Europe.
“She did radio; I did TV,” Connie explained. “Europe … was wonderful … the flagship of Holland America. We paid our passage. Traveler’s checks and call your father in emergencies. We had one father between us. My dad wasn’t wealthy, but his idea of (bon voyage) was gathering my friends from Trinity in New York. He booked the Persian Room at the Plaza for two days. We’d blow the wad.”
After Europe, Connie left for California.
“I wanted to settle there, but my dad said, ‘Can you give us a couple of years?’”
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue