Return to Camelot

By Jan Brand | Photos by Shad Ramsey & provided by Sonny Fisher

When had he had a better day? Three hours ago Raymond “Sonny” Fisher had shaken hands with the President of the United States, and now he was about to sit behind the wheel of his new dream car that was sure to be a chick magnet.

Sonny’s father, Raymond Fisher, Sr., D.O. and his uncle, Roy Fisher, D.O. were the founding doctors of Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital.

Sonny’s mother made lunch for him and his dad most days, and this day was no different. During lunch, with a big grin on his face, his dad told Sonny they were going down to Ernest Allen Chevrolet to pick up his new car. That afternoon, Sonny’s excitement went off the scale when he saw his dad had bought him a new 1963 cherry-red Chevy convertible.

Driving the car home, lost in thought, it took a moment to realize his dad, following in his own car was trying to get his attention, motioning for him to pull over.

“Turn your radio on,” his dad yelled.

Sonny heard these words from a breathy reporter: “Shortly after noon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove through Dealy Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas.”

That was impossible. Just this morning, he had talked with the youthful President, who asked if Snuffy was his horse, or issued by the county. The President seemed pleased Sonny owned the horse, and remarked what a fine animal he was, running his hand down Snuffy’s forelock.

It didn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you were on. Anyone watching national television November 22, 1963, was deeply grieved at the sight of the handsome, young President being murdered, with a tearful First Lady left to raise two children without their father. The entire nation mourned.

It was hard not to be disarmed by John F. Kennedy’s engaging smile. He was the youngest President ever elected, and he had the friendly look that made us feel he was one of us. He had friends in high places. The Hollywood Rat Pack were his cronies: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Kennedy’s brother-in-law, the famous actor Peter Lawford, added luster and star status to his celebrity.

Born into a family of Irish immigrants with a zest for power and wealth, it was no surprise that his youth and energy defeated the somber, sometimes described as unapproachable, Richard Nixon.

With style, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy swept into her role as First Lady. All across America, women rushed to buy reproductions of her famous pillbox hats and Oleg Cassini designer suits being mass produced in the garment district of New York. “Jackie” was the new trendsetter in fashion, causing the look-alikes to fly off the sales racks at Macy’s and Penny’s.

The preceding Eisenhower years were remembered for peace and prosperity. The middle-class exploded and the future looked bright. Churches seemed to spring up on street corners in every town.

Shortly after Kennedy took office, the CIA failed in a Bay of Pigs attempt to overthrow Castro and stop the communist influence in Cuba. Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev sent ships loaded with missiles to arm the new Castro regime. President Kennedy had a nuclear emergency nearly before he’d uttered the last words of the oath of office. He sent a Naval blockade to stop the Russian’s attempt. Kennedy’s response was: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

President Eisenhower had already integrated the schools, and heated passion among the races was rising to a boiling point.

The President seemed pleased Fisher owned the horse, and remarked what a fine animal he was, running his hand down Snuffy’s forelock.

Photo by Shad Ramsey

Camelot, as the Democrats referred to the brief Kennedy years (1961-1963), came just as the opposing sides of the civil rights movement filled the cauldron of racial divide to the brim. In the streets, both turmoil and triumph prevailed. But America had found their rock: the dazzling Kennedys from Boston.

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy gave a nationally televised speech calling for more active support of civil rights.

Surrounded by such Hollywood luminaries as Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston and Sidney Poitier on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sonny standing at his lake front home in Granbury.

Photo by Shad Ramsey

King was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience movement in India in a bid for independence from Great Britain. Reverend King called for peaceful opposition to segregation. But an angry boiling pot was about to spill onto mainstream America, where people had to choose sides. Some of the tension was diffused when men of faith like Reverend Billy Graham refused to hold meetings in towns that would not integrate the crusades.

Texas was an important Democratic state in the 1960s, and on that fateful day in November, 1963, President and Mrs. Kennedy arrived in Texas to broker a deal between two powerful Texans who were at war with each other, Governor John Connolly and U.S. Senator Ralph W. Yarborough, which was important before the 1964 election.

The President made his first stop in Fort Worth and spoke at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast before his trip to Dallas. Sheriff’s deputy, Raymond “Sonny” Fisher, rode his horse, Snuffy, as part of the Fort Worth security detail assigned to President Kennedy.

On that November morning, the President came out of the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth. He talked with Sonny about his horse, Snuffy, then thanked all the deputies for being there. After he settled in the convertible, Sonny Fisher leaned down from his horse and shook hands with Kennedy, who was on his way to Meacham Field for the short flight to Love Field in Dallas. A photographer took a picture of Deputy Fisher and the President shaking hands.

Stunned by the news he heard on the radio that afternoon, Sonny could hardly steady his shaking hands enough to drive his new car the rest of the way home. It was impossible to think the energetic, charismatic young President could be dead. The picture of his handshake with Kennedy was one of the last photos taken of the 35th President of the United States.   

The six o’clock news replayed scenes of the assassination like a movie shown in slow motion, with the crack of rifle fire splitting the autumn day. That night, Sonny entered the pages of history in the most unexpected way, as the picture of him shaking hands with Kennedy was sent across the news wires.  

At his house on Lake Granbury, Sonny Fisher has a room filled with Kennedy memorabilia that commemorates the President’s life and the day the lights went out in Camelot.