Publishing a book at age 85 sounds daunting to most people, but to Jeb Byrne it seemed natural.
What was daunting was suddenly being injected into a new, rough-and-tumble job as an advance man to President John F. Kennedy at a time when the profession was embryonic.
Mount Vernon resident, Jeb Byrne, has published Out in Front, a book describing his 1963 experiences as an advance man for Kennedy and after JFK's assassination, for President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
He sorted through the "detritus of hotel rooms," two grocery cart-sized piles of schedules, scribbled notes, news clippings, tickets and invitations and started typing on an Underwood. Why did he write the book?
"Memoirs are important to history," Byrne said in an interview. "I was in a wonderful position to observe."
Byrne lays out the behind-the-scenes tricks of the trade, such as choosing a small spot for a speech so it will seem crowded. Advancers visited the event site ten days ahead, prepared the program, recruited supporters and quelled factions. "Even the factions had factions," he chuckled.
He made signs, devised motorcade routes and mediated spats over limousine seats between hot-headed politicians. One of the "anonymous men of 1964" (President Johnson demanded anonymity), he worked to prevent blowups, backfires and bloopers. His team paved the way for trips and generated crowds. "If no one shows up, the principal will raise hell. If everyone shows up, he'll take all the credit," Byrne offered. Advance tasks remain largely the same today, though enhanced by technologies unknown in the 1960s.
In the book, Byrne poignantly relates the heartbreak of learning of Kennedy's assassination. He was jolted awake by loud banging on his hotel room door as he napped after his first advancing assignment for Kennedy in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 21, 1963. A colleague shouted, "Turn on your radio. Your boss is dead."
Before becoming an advance man, Byrne managed public affairs at the General Services Administration, was a UPI reporter and press secretary to Maine Governor Clinton Clauson. After his advancing stint, he directed the Office of the Federal Register and retired in 1988.
He has lived in Hollin Hills since 1961 where he and his wife, Beverly, a retired West Potomac High School English teacher, raised four sons.
Out in Front was published by the State University of New York Press.