Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Marie F. Tippit dies at 92

Marie F. Tippit thanks a nation for its generosity in December, 1963; flanked by (left to right) Dallas Police Public Relations Officer Glen D. King and Dallas Police Chief Jesse E. Curry. (Houston Chronicle)
 
By DALE K. MYERS
 
The Dallas police widow whose plight touched a nation in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is dead at 92.
 
Marie Frances Tippit, the wife of Dallas Police Patrolman J.D. Tippit who was murdered on an Oak Cliff side street while attempting to question Lee Harvey Oswald, was a soft-spoken woman who managed to live a quiet life outside the public spotlight.
 
She was born in Red River County, Texas, on October 25, 1928 to Charley Walter Gasway and Maud Frances Hastings. The second of four children, Marie grew up in the Clarksville area with her two brothers – Narvel and Dwight – and one sister, Erma.
 
High school sweetheart 
 
In the late 1930s, while attending Fulbright High School, she met a farm boy who would become the love of her life – J.D. Tippit.
 
At the end of World War II, the farm boy turned paratrooper returned to the farm and a romance with Miss Gasway took flame. On December 26, 1946, the couple married in an informal ceremony performed by Reverend J. Clark Martin in Clarksville, Texas. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Dallas. 
 
J.D. got a job at Sears Roebuck and Company installing insulation – a job he held for the next seventeen months.
 
In 1949, Marie announced that she was expecting. In the fall, J.D. resigned his job at Sears and moved back to Red River County to try his hand at something he knew well – farming. The couple moved to Lone Star, Texas, where J.D. hoped to raise cattle on a few acres of his father’s farm.
 
On New Years Day, 1950, Marie gave birth to their first child – Charles Allen.
 
For the next two years, J.D. tried to make a go at farming, but the fickle East Texas weather played havoc with the lives of farmers along the Sulphur River basin, including the young Tippit family.
 
In the spring of 1952, fellow farmer turned Dallas police officer, Basel Robinson convinced J.D. that moving to Dallas and getting a job with the police department would be better than eking out a living on a Red River County farm.
 
“I tried to talk him out of it and did – once,” Marie said. “That lasted about a month. But obviously, that’s what he wanted to do. So, I said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, I’m behind you 100 percent. I just want you to do what you’re happy with.”
 
The couple moved to Dallas and in July, 1952, J.D. was hired by the City of Dallas as an apprentice policeman at the starting salary of $250 per month.
 
A daughter, Brenda Kay, and a son, Curtis Glenn, were added to the family in 1953 and 1958.
 
J.D.’s eleven-year police career included several brushes with death, which Marie shouldered through with a mix of fear and resolve.
 
A week before he was killed, J.D. took Marie to Sterling Jewelry and they looked at diamond rings to replace Marie’s original, worn wedding band. She picked one out and he asked her if she liked it. She said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Maybe we can get it sometime.’ J.D. later returned to the store and put the ring in lay-a-way.
 
Her world crashes
 
On November 22, 1963, Marie’s world crashed in around her. Forty-five minutes after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, her husband was shot while attempting to stop and question a man on Tenth Street in Oak Cliff. Eleven eyewitnesses identified the gunman as Lee Harvey Oswald, who was arrested forty-minutes later in the Texas Theater with the murder weapon in his hand.
 
Police later charged Oswald with Tippit’s death, as well as the president’s assassination.
 
That night, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy telephoned Marie for Mrs. Kennedy and said they were “extremely sorry and wanted to offer their deepest sympathy in this time of grief,” adding that if his brother had not come to Dallas, Officer Tippit would still be alive.
 
Marie told him “to express my concern to Mrs. Kennedy and tell her I certainly know how she feels. But, you know, they were both doing their jobs. They got killed doing their jobs. He was being the president, and J.D. was being the policeman he was supposed to be.”
 
On Monday, November 25th, seven-hundred policemen joined as many mourners at the small red brick Beckley Hills Baptist Church to honor a man many considered “a lovable guy.” Three local television stations carried the funeral. After the eulogy by the Reverend Claude D. Tipps, Jr., Mrs. Tippit was helped forward, weeping softly. She stood for a long moment beside her husband’s open casket. Then she turned away, handkerchief to her eyes, and was helped from the church.
 
A fifteen-man motorcycle escort led the funeral cortege to the sloping grounds of Laurel Land Memorial Park, where family, friends, and colleagues bade a tearful goodbye.
 
A few days later, Mrs. Kennedy sent a personal letter to Marie that touched the entire Tippit family. The contents, which Marie kept private for many years, underscored the grief of both widows.
 
“Dear Mrs. Tippit,” Jacqueline Kennedy wrote, “What can I say to you? My husband’s death is responsible for you losing your husband. Wasn’t one life enough to take on that day? You must be bitter. I don’t blame you if you are. Please know that I think of you all the time – not that that can help any. It doesn’t seem fair to me that because my husband was more famous than yours, that more attention is turned to my bereavement than yours. If there is anything I can do for you for the rest of my life – it would make me so happy if I knew you would ask me. You know, I lit a flame for Jack at Arlington that will burn forever. I consider that it burns for your husband too – and so will everyone who ever sees it. With my unexpressible sympathy, /s/ Jacqueline Kennedy.”
 
With help from J.D.’s brother-in-law, Jack Christopher, Marie responded by letter, assuring Mrs. Kennedy that there was no bitterness in her heart, only “a very lonely feeling.” Marie then asked if Mrs. Kennedy would send a family photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and their children.
 
Shortly thereafter, a photograph of the Kennedy family at Hyannis Port arrived in a beautiful gold leaf frame. The inscription below the photograph read: “For Mrs. J.D. Tippit – with my deepest sympathy – and the knowledge that you and I now share another bond – reminding our children all their lives what brave men their fathers were – With all my wishes for your happiness, Jacqueline Kennedy.”
 
A nation's heart
 
The financial plight of Marie and her three children touched the nation’s heart. When her husband was killed, he was earning $490 dollars a month (the equivalent of $4,200 dollars today) with the police department. The $7,500 insurance policy issued by the department was not enough to support the family very long.
 
Unsolicited donations began to pour in from all over the United States. With a few months, more than 40,000 pieces of mail totaling over $600,000 dollars (the equivalent of $5 million dollars today) was sent to the Tippit family. A $300,000 trust fund was set up for the three children.
 
For Marie Tippit and her children, the hardest time was the weeks just after the murder. “We lived at the end of the street,” she remembered. “Curtis, our youngest, would sit by the window for hours and watch for his daddy. And that was really difficult.”
 
J.D.’s only daughter, Brenda, suffered from intense stomachaches and “for the longest time, just couldn’t handle it,” her mother said. “She was terribly hurt by an article saying she was too young to know what was going on when her daddy was killed.”
 
The death may have hurt J.D.’s oldest son more than anyone. “Allen had a terrible time coping,” Marie said. “It affected him for years. He couldn’t talk about it for a very long time.” Marie believes that her husband’s death “was the major contributor” to many of Allen’s problems later in life.
 
“The days and weeks and months that followed were just terrible,” Marie remembered. “You keep on going because you have to. You say your prayers and you feed your children and you read your Bible and you live one day at a time, so it gets to the point where you can live a single day without crying.”
 
A month after the funeral, Marie Tippit accepted the Meritorious Award from the Dallas Police Department on J.D.’s behalf. After thanking the nation for their kindness and generosity in a televised press conference, she and her children slipped back into their private lives.
 
“I just wanted my children to have a chance to grow up as normal, average kids,” she said. “It’s important for kids to grow up and be themselves without being judged by events that happen. And being in the public eye was certainly not going to help them be normal kids.”
 
A private life
 
Marie remarried twice – once in 1967 to Dallas police Lt. Harry Dean Thomas, and again in 1993 to Carl Flinner. Thomas died in 1982. Flinner and Marie divorced in 2008.
 
Marie remained out of the spotlight for nearly forty-years. During that period, she rarely granted interviews, especially in the wake of a 1966 Good Housekeeping article that described her in unflattering terms. She once said that you can’t trust any of the media to tell the truth.
 
In 2001, Marie and her two youngest children attended the dedication ceremony of a Texas State Historical Marker erected near her home town of Clarksville which honored J.D.’s sacrifice on November 22, 1963.
 
Other public outings followed, including an appearance at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2008; a police poster signing in 2009; a Texas House of Representatives tribute to J.D. Tippit in 2011; a Texas State Historical Marker erected at Tenth and Patton in 2012; and several others.
 
In 2013, on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, Marie granted an interview to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw for a national broadcast. The shy, soft-spoken farm girl from Red River County had learned to embrace the limelight, especially when it gave her the chance to talk about the blue-eyed hero of her life – J.D. Tippit.
 
Marie was spry and outgoing in her later years, continuing to drive an automobile (to the horror and amusement of family and friends) well into her nineties. 
 
She passed away peacefully this afternoon while in hospice care, with her family at her side.
 
She was preceded in death by her eldest son, Charles Allen Tippit, who died of lung cancer in 2014, at age 64. She is survived by her daughter, Brenda; son Curtis; and many grandchildren, family and friends. [END]