A brilliant man, Richard N. Goodwin, died on Sunday at age 86. He was, famously, an aide, speechwriter, and policy assistant to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, then a manager of Senator Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 New Hampshire primary campaign, and then an aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
Earlier, Goodwin had been a top Harvard Law School student and then a law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court to Justice Felix Frankfurter.
Goodwin also wrote noted, important books, and a play.
He also had a family. He had sons, and he was married for more than forty years to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The Boston Globe, in its obituary headline yesterday, described Richard Goodwin as a “Kennedy speechwriter and husband to Doris Kearns Goodwin.” On reading that, I thought that the second half of it was odd—Dick Goodwin was a giant in his own right, not someone whose greatness since 1963 or across the span of his life was defined by his wife’s name, prominence, and accomplishments.
On further thought, I like it. In terms of name recognition and public visibility, at least in recent decades, Doris Kearns Goodwin outranked Richard Goodwin. By that measure, the Globe headline simply has things right.
I also like it as a measure of social progress. Think of all the women who, in years past, whatever their own accomplishments, got tagged in headlines and elsewhere as Mrs. Someone or Wife of Whomever. Think of all the men who were lifted to top billings, above their female partners, by reflexive gender privilege.
The Goodwin headline reminds us that none of that was right, and in that way it is a small sign that, in this regard at least, times are better. Every person is a life of its content. And each person might be partnered with another who brings added, and sometimes lots of added, value.
RIP and thank you for your great life, Mr. Goodwin.