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John Joseph Lardner, former Secret Service agent

John Joseph Lardner guarded President Kennedy on a winter day, with his right hand — and his trigger finger — exposed. John Joseph Lardner guarded President Kennedy on a winter day, with his right hand — and his trigger finger — exposed.
By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2010

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When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961, Secret Service agent John Joseph Lardner rode behind him on Pennsylvania Avenue. He was proud to be a kid from Lowell who grew up to guard the president, he told his family.

There was little else he ever shared about those Kennedy years. “There’s a reason we’re called the Secret Service,’’ Mr. Lardner would often tell his nephew, Michael Walsh of Bedford, N.H.

Mr. Lardner, a US Marine Corps captain who was a Secret Service agent from 1959 to his retirement in 1983 as special agent in charge of Rhode Island and Bristol County, died of a heart attack at his home in Easton Nov. 19.

He was 80.

“My dad lived his life by the Marine Corps code,’’ God, corps, and country, said his oldest daughter, Kristin M. Brown of East Sandwich.

“It was just the way his life was.’’

Mr. Lardner would never discuss his assignment on the day Kennedy was shot or say whether he was in Dallas.

“He would never tell,’’ his daughter said.

“He had strong opinions about the assassination, but it was very difficult for him to talk about. He was never a man at a loss for words, but it was the one subject you just couldn’t approach him about.’’

Following the assassination, Mr. Lardner was assigned to the detail guarding Jacqueline Kennedy and her children. His family said they believe Mrs. Kennedy personally requested him.

After his sudden death, his daughter began sorting through his personal papers and found thank you notes from Mrs. Kennedy and jokes in the agent’s old spiral bound notebook jotted by a young Caroline Kennedy.

In one old photo, Mr. Lardner walks behind the president as he leaves a hospital pushing Mrs. Kennedy in a wheelchair. A nurse carries newborn John Jr.

In another photo, Mr. Lardner stands next to President Kennedy on a winter day. The agent wears one glove on his left hand, leaving his right hand — and his trigger finger — exposed.

Born in the Bronx, Mr. Lardner was the only son of a brick mason John and a nurse, Mary (Corcoran), who emigrated from County Kerry, Ireland. His sister Eileen died in 2009.

Mr. Lardner graduated in 1949 from Lowell High, where he played football.

He became an apprentice brick mason under his father and grandfather while going to Northeastern University. He graduated with a degree in business in 1954 and joined the Marines.

He was married more than 35 years to Karen M. (Buchwald). They met at a pub in Boston in the 1970s when she was a nurse. They had three children. His daughter Kristin recalled reveling at the sight of her father’s dress uniform.

“He would have me lead the charge through the house with my brothers and sisters in marching cadence. ‘Over hill over dale, we will hit the dusty trail . . .’ I can sing the entire song to his day,’’ said Kristin, who is a paramedic.

Mr. Lardner started out in the forgery and counterfeit department of the Secret Service before he was assigned to presidential details.

Mr. Lardner, who was known as Jack, showed little interest in his former colleague Gerald Blaine’s just published book, “The Kennedy Detail: JFK’s Secret Service Agents Break Their Silence,’’ according to his family.

“I said, Jack you’re not going to buy the book? He said, ‘Mike, there’s a reason why we were called the Secret Service,’ ’’ his nephew said.

“I said man, oh, man, that’s old school talking.’’

Mr. Lardner also was a life-long Republican and supported Republican candidates in Massachusetts, including Senator Scott Brown.

“The only time I saw him cry in the 33 years I knew him was the day President Reagan died,’’ said his daughter. “He adored him.’’

Mr. Lardner was active in local government in Easton, where he was on the Finance Committee for several years. He was an avid tennis player and an expert skier.

In recent years, he enjoyed investing in the stock market and sharing stock tips with his family. However, he would never talk about substantial topics over cordless phones, his nephew said.

“He would always say, ‘Are you hardwired?’ He was very careful of what he would say on a telephone,’’ Michael said.

In addition to his oldest daughter and wife, Mr. Lardner leaves his son, J. Adam of Easton; another daughter, Kerry A. of Truro; and five grandchildren.

Services have been held.