Frank Mankiewicz: A Wordsmith to the Very End

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Frank Mankiewicz at Good Samaritan Hospital after the 1968 shooting of Robert F. Kennedy.

By Jack Limpert

Frank Mankiewicz was known more for politics than journalism but he did have a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, was briefly a news anchor at a Washington D.C. television station, and was president of National Public Radio from 1977 to 1983.

He probably was best known as press secretary to Senator Robert F. Kennedy—he made the heartbreaking announcement of Kennedy’s death in June 1968 after the senator was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary.

In recent years Frank used his talents as a wordsmith and political strategist at the Hill & Knowlton public relations and lobbying firm, but he also was known for winning Scrabble tournaments and ghost-writing some of the best one-liners ever spoken at Washington dinners.

He died October 23 at the age of 90 and Wes Pippert, a longtime UPI journalist and emeritus head of the Washington program of the University of Missouri Journalism School, went to Frank’s memorial service at a Quaker meeting house. Wes writes:

It was a splendid blend of the heavy-hearted and light-hearted. Frank was a wordsmith and his wife, Patricia O’Brien, herself a writer, told a good tale from Frank’s last days. Frank lay mute in a coma and Patricia was there, urging him to “Breathe deep! Breathe deep! Breathe deep!”

She said Frank slowly opened his eyes and mouthed the word, “Deeply.”

Comments

  1. Mankiewicz led life to its fullest extent. He didn’t rest on family achievements. Long before his RFK work, he was editor of the Santa Monica Independent-Journal, a weekly newspaper (when they were of great importance), in the 1950s. He kept faith in the basketball teams of his alma mater, UCLA, even when the Bruins weren’t winning championships. He remained intriguing to the end, keeping his mind fresh by going to the office and staying involved. R.I.P.

  2. An email from a longtime journalist contends that Patricia was right to say “Breathe deep.” He says, “It is like digging a hole. You would tell someone to “Dig deep,” not “Dig deeply.” I asked if he wanted to tell the world that he thinks Frank was wrong. He said, “Nah.”

  3. Alison Wentworth says

    Just learned recently that Frank Mankiewicz was the editor of the Santa Monica Journal-Independent weekly during the 1950’s (when weeklies were important). The writing in those issues of that paper inspired me as a child to aspire to journalism. I’ve been researching the Independent lately without much success. This is one more clue in the hunt. Sorry I didn’t start this search years ago when principals of that era were still living.

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