My Mother’s Treasure
Clipping Leads to Finding Author Who Hasn’t Spoken To Media in 58 Years
A 15-year-old New York sophomore’s class assignment on President John Kennedy’s assassination went viral, so to speak, before social media even existed.
Barbara Jones Maher’s poem, “Special Delivery from Heaven,” was famous in 1963 and is still found on eBay. It was one of my own mother’s treasures, and inspired me to seek its author. It has been translated into 10 languages and made into a recording. People from all over the world (Europe and Asia) sent Barbara letters when they read it.
“This is the only time I have ever responded to someone wanting to talk about my JFK poem despite many such requests over the years,” Barbara said, adding that said has had her reasons for not speaking about it. “There seem to be a number of compelling reasons for me to do so at this moment in time,” she said.
“I felt the poem had little literary merit,” said Barbara, now 73, who has enjoyed writing since she was 5.
Her English class at Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers was asked to submit a eulogy for Kennedy for the school newspaper. Always obedient since it was a Catholic school, Barbara is still surprised she didn’t write a eulogy. “It was out of character for me.” She wrote the poem in 10 minutes.
“It came from my heart and was never meant for anyone else,” Barbara said. Yet it touched the city where her father served as police lieutenant and later deputy chief (he worked on the Son of Sam case). He shared the raw copy with his precinct, and so many others wanted copies that it was sent over the teletype system.
The school newspaper was being dedicated to the slain president. Because of Barbara’s sentiments, the New York Journal-American did a Sunday feature, and other large newspapers also published -- before the Sacred Heart Green-Gold Echoes. The school newspaper lost the scoop.
“It went from friend to friend,” Barbara said. Her brother Edward, a student at Iona College, showed it around campus, and he was also swamped with requests. More and more newspaper reporters got a hold of it.
“It just blew up,” Barbara said. “It gave people comfort.” Barbara said camera crews began following her around, even at the bowling alley.
The Post Office delivered mailbags to her high school, and some put money in their letters. Barbara’s parents returned the cash and responded personally to hundreds of letters “despite the expense of postage.” The letters were kept in several large suitcases, and poem-related articles and clippings were in several scrapbooks, but sadly their house was destroyed by fire. Barbara only has a few in her basement. Her father died as a result of the fire, and her mother not long after.
Barbara got a formal thank you from Jacqueline Kennedy. The poem is in the Congressional Record. On Jan. 15, 1964, in Rep. Jacob Gilbert’s extension of remarks, he called the poem “splendid” and added that it had beautiful thoughts of a young lady that would touch everyone.
Notoriety was unwelcome to Barbara. She called herself a “nerd,” and most importantly, was someone who never wanted to profit from a murder. Barbara refused compensation for appearances in the tri-state area beyond gas and tolls.
Barbara did agree to read occasionally at her father’s urging, and they attended the annual Alfred E. Smith dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria. She wore a velvet gown, and her father donned a tuxedo. She met Cardinal Francis Spellman and Bishop Fulton Sheen. Spellman founded the event in 1945 to raise funds for Catholic charities supporting children.
Barbara is also a lifetime member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
She turned down four academically earned college scholarships and two others offered by generous benefactors touched by her poem. Instead, she married her high school sweetheart, Bobby, at age 19. Sadly, he died of cancer just 10 years later, leaving Barbara to raise their two little girls alone.
She lucked into a teaching job at her alma mater, later got a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in psychology in three years and has taught college classes.
Barbara said she never gave an English assignment that she wouldn’t do herself. The students did not write their names on their papers but used identification numbers. Therefore, they could talk about the papers, not knowing who wrote them. She put her own work in the mix.
A giant laminated copy of her poem was placed at Sacred Heart and later sent to her parents.
Barbara is now retired and enjoys a memoir writing group with a dozen talented people. Barbara takes great joy in having her daughters and teenage grandson living nearby.
Barbara said she never set out to defy her parents about getting a free education but thought marriage was the right thing and had no regrets. “We had nothing, and we had everything,” she said.
“I value the same things as before,” she added.
She met “wonderful, generous people” as a young poet. She says sometimes she says, “It happened, and I can’t believe it happened.”
However, “any number of people claim to have written it,” and one could buy copies on plates and placards from others. It’s disheartening, but Barbara has come to terms with everything and will no longer rule out going to Kennedy memorials or conferences in the future.
She doesn’t have an opinion on who killed Kennedy. “I don’t know. At the time I knew little,” she said. “I was enamored with him and deeply moved, but have no strong feeling on who did it.”
Barbara remembers being in Mr. McCormick’s American history class when a rare notice came over the public address system. The announcement said, “Something terrible happened, and we need to say a prayer.”
Later, the students were told about the assassination, and Barbara said, you could hear a pin drop. The class was dismissed early.
Years later, she was teaching in her classroom and watched the Twin Towers burn.
Editor’s Note: With the possibility that this story stirs up more media requests of Barbara, I wanted to make sure she was prepared. She answered, “Yes, I’m an adult now.”
Everything happens for a reason. Nothing happens by accident. Barbara said there are some really strange parallels/coincidences that appear to be at force after being tracked down for this story. She said she keeps humming a spiritual from a key scene in “The Color Purple”: “Maybe God’s trying to tell you somethin’.”
“I hope you don’t mind that I Googled you,” she told me after I also used Google to find her. I found her father’s obituary since his name was on the explanation of the poem. It led to finding Barbara’s sister on Facebook. Her sister passed on my phone number.
“Your interests are important to me,” Barbara texted. Since reading “Gone with the Wind” as a young girl, she’s been obsessed with all things Southern, from culture to cuisine and all things in between. Visits one day to New Orleans, Savannah and Charleston are at the top of her bucket list.
The ninth annual JFK Assassination Conference (where I have been asked to give the opening prayer and sparked my interest in finding Barbara) is being held at the Magnolia Hotel in Dallas, where the famous Pegasus Flying Red Horse adorns the roof. Barbara’s brother flew F-15s, and his squadron was called Pegasus. He died Nov. 5.
Barbara found that I love memoir writing. She does, too. She knew that I wrote a book called “Hands Pointed Up,” which includes inspirational sayings that include the word “up” to help people keep a positive attitude. Her late husband’s positivity always inspires her, and his favorite expression in the face of ANY adversity – big or small – was “It’s just a little inconvenience.” In fact, “J A L I” is the title of the memoir she is currently writing.
She noticed I once served on the Food Bank board of directors and said she, too, worked on food drives. She thought my name was German, and her brother loved to visit Germany. My maternal grandparents were born in Germany.
Yes, something – rather Someone – was at play for us to connect. Thank you, God.
To: The Kennedy Family
From: John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Sorry I had to leave right away,
I look down and smile at you every day.
Little Patrick asks to say "Hi,"
I love you, I'm happy, so please don't cry.
And Caroline I'd like to say,
How proud Daddy was of you that day.
When you stood like a lady and watched me
And doing as Mommy did, you tried not to
Little John, now you're the big man,
So take care of Mommy the best you can.
You were just like a soldier — that salute
was so brave,
Thanks for the flag that you placed on my
And Jackie, there was not time for goodbye,
But I'm sure you could read the "Farewell"
in my eyes,
Watch over our children and love them for
I'll treasure your love through eternity.
So please carry on as you did before,
'Till all us meet on Heaven's bright shore.
Remember I love you, remember I care,
I'll always be with you, though you don't see