Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fay Puckett: Daughter of woman who operated rooming house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived

by MICHAEL GRANBERRY / The Dallas Morning News

Fay Puckett, whose mother operated the Oak Cliff rooming house where Lee Harvey Oswald was living in the fall of 1963, died Sunday from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was 84.

Her daughter, Patricia Puckett Hall, who still lives in the house at 1026 N. Beckley, said Monday that her mother was legally blind and nearly deaf at the end of a long illness.

Like many in the city, Ms. Puckett was touched by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Ms. Puckett was working in her photography studio on Jefferson Boulevard when she looked out the window and saw Dallas police escorting a screaming, handcuffed Oswald from the Texas Theatre across the street. She recognized him as one of her mother's tenants.

Ms. Puckett's mother was Gladys Johnson, who for almost six weeks in the fall of 1963 rented a room to a man who gave his name as O.H. Lee. He paid $8 a week. On Nov. 22, 1963, Oswald returned briefly to the rooming house, minutes after President Kennedy was shot.

Earlene Roberts, Ms. Johnson's housekeeper, was sitting in the living room watching television when an apparently agitated Oswald opened the door. Ms. Roberts told reporters that when Oswald came in, she said, "You sure are in a hurry" – to which he gave no response. She said he entered in shirt-sleeves and left zipping up a jacket.

Investigators later concluded that Oswald went to his room to fetch his pistol, which they say he used minutes later to gun down Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit.

Ms. Puckett, who returned to live in the family home in 1977, spoke often over the years of how the house – which has always been occupied by a family member – loomed as a reminder of Dallas' darkest day.

"It was like a circus here after the assassination," Ms. Puckett told The Dallas Morning News in 1997. "People were always coming by to see Oswald's room. My mother allowed them inside for a while. Then it got so totally out of hand, she stopped doing that. Oswald only lived here about six weeks. It was just at the wrong time."

Ms. Puckett was sitting on her porch one day when a man approached. "You look like Norman Mailer," she said. "I am," replied the author of Oswald's Tale.

During the early 1990s, Ms. Puckett allowed filmmaker Oliver Stone inside the home to shoot scenes for the movie JFK. But she became increasingly miffed, her daughter said, over Mr. Stone's taking "weeks instead of days" and "totally ignoring" details and descriptions she deemed important. "Mother's not a real big fan of Oliver Stone," Ms. Hall said.

Born Stella Fae Arrant in Alto, Texas, in 1923, Ms. Puckett began using the name "Fay" in an effort to circumvent the sexism she encountered as a young business owner, hoping that before they met her, prospective employers would think she was male.

"After they saw her work," her daughter said, "it didn't matter that she was a woman."

For years, she owned Puckett Studio at the corner of Davis and Bishop in the area now known as the Bishop Arts District. For three decades, her daughter says, she "combined oil painting with photography, specializing in portraits" and weddings.

Ms. Hall describes her mother as being able to capture "the warmth and personality of each and every client that came into her studio."

Upon her return to the family home, she brought her business with her. She converted the small room where Oswald slept into the family library, filling it with books and the family's crystal collection, as it remains today.

She is survived by her daughter, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. A private memorial service will be held at the family home on Saturday.

Source: The Dallas Morning News

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love you Gramma. I thank God that you are comfortable now.

Amee and the Girls