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Kennedy aide 'Irishman of the Year'

WESTON -- Charles U. Daly's Weston home office could easily be a museum. From candid shots of him with John F. Kennedy and Mikhail Gorbachev to personal letters from eminent government officials, it is packed with pieces of history that have touched his life.

Daly, 78, who worked for the late president and then headed his presidential library, will be honored as Irishman of the Year by the Friends of the Kennedy Library Tuesday.

Given annually since 1986, the award is said to honor Kennedy's belief that each person can make a difference and that everyone should try.

Born in Ireland, Daly moved to the United States when he was 12. His brogue is long gone, other than the occasional word. ''That's what the Navy and the Marine Corp will do for your accents," he quipped.

With a bachelor's in international relations from Yale and a master's in journalism from Columbia, he entered politics by way of Capitol Hill. From 1959 to 1960, he served in offices of then-Senator John F. Kennedy and Congressman Stewart Udall, the Arizona Democrat who served much of the '60s as secretary of the interior.

When Kennedy was elevated to the White House, Daly was recruited to work as one of his staff assistants.

He readily admits failure in one of his assignments: persuading Congress to accept a black member of the Cabinet; that wouldn't happen until the Johnson administration.

Anything involving race relations was a tough sell in those days, and Daly that in the push for civil rights legislation, he and his colleagues sometimes went beyond arm-twisting to twisting the truth.

He recalled an instance in which they persuaded a congressman to mislead his constituents about the outcome of a poll. Although the survey showed 75 percent of the white people opposed, ''we discussed it and decided that the congressman would tell the people in the district that they were 75 percent for it, and the vote went OK." Daly declined to name the congressman.

A big moment for the Daly family came when Kennedy arranged for children of staff members to become White House ushers when they turned 12.

''My son Douglas turned 12 the week before Kennedy went to Dallas," Daly said. ''There's a picture of him staring at Kennedy in awe."

Later, both of Daly's sons were invited by Lyndon Johnson to accompany him on Air Force One to California. ''Now I'm going to tell you what life is going to be like after the White House," Daly said he told his sons. Then he handed them a pair of bus tickets for their return home.

Daly served as director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum from 1988 to 1994 and then as executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation until 2001.

Tom McNaught, deputy director of the foundation, said Daly's award is long overdue. He credits Daly with helping to establish the Profile in Courage Award and endowments of research fellowships in civil rights, the presidency, and other public policy matters. Under Daly's stewardship, the library entered the computer age, and its endowment grew from $8 million to $20 million.

Daly now is on the board of directors of the American Ireland Fund, which supports arts, education, and reconciliation programs. He also serves on the board of the Independent News and Media, an international communications group based in Dublin and serves as its special adviser on AIDS.

Daly said he initially joined the Ireland Fund to help pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. He also wanted to dissuade Americans from donating to IRA-linked organizations. ''Many people were being lied to as they thought they were giving money for hospital beds," he said.

Daly said he was particularly pleased with the fund's efforts to promote tolerance, such as its $1 million grant for an Irish ''Sesame Street."

''I don't believe that the way forward is more killing . . . that sort of approach to problems led to a lot more bloodshed and not much progress," said Daly, who was awarded a Silver Star in World War II and a Purple Heart in the Korean War.

Asked about the war in Iraq, Daly said, ''The lies in Vietnam are tiny fibs compared to what led us into this one."

Daly spends three months a year in Bantry, Ireland, where he has a home.

In addition to his older sons from his first marriage to the late Mary de Burgh Daly, he and his wife, Christine Sullivan -- who had served as appointments secretary for House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neil -- have two sons, Charlie, a junior at Weston High School, and Kevin, an eighth-grader at Weston Middle School. The couple, who are 23 years apart in age, have been married for 18 years.

Susan Chaityn Lebovits can be reached at

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