Voices–Sandi Gibbons

 

1968_rfk_sandi_gibbons02

 

Above, a frame grab from a video of Robert F. Kennedy’s speech at the Ambassador Hotel. Based on Sandi Gibbons’ description the evening, I believe she is on the far right of the frame next to Ethel Kennedy and Rosey Grier. Update: Sandi confirms that she’s the woman on the right.

It was hot.

We had been standing in the Embassy Room in the basement of the
Ambassador Hotel for hours waiting for Bobby to appear. I was luckier
than most. As a reporter for a local wire service that had an audio
subsidiary, I had a tape recorder so I could record Robert F. Kennedy
as he announced victory in the June 4, 1968, primary election. I was on
the stage, along with assorted other broadcast media including a local
radio newsman named Andy West and national broadcast correspondent
Steve Bell. The three of us chatted for what seemed like hours as we
hunkered down on the stage. There was what seemed like hundreds of
people in that little reception room that was illuminated by very hot
television lights. They were jammed together so tight that if someone
fainted, he or she could not fall down. It would have been impossible.

And finally he came. It was just after midnight on June 5, 1968.
With his wife, Ethel, at his side, he declared victory and said it was
“on to Chicago” and the Democratic National Convention. He had the
momentum and may have been the Democratic presidential nominee that
summer…and in November the next president of the United States.

All of us on that little stage gathered around Bobby as the
screaming, yelling, laughing, happy crowd of supporters surged forward.
No one wanted the potential president to be crushed and injured. Being
almost 6’ tall, I was part of the ring of people around the candidate.
Jesse Unruh, California’s Assembly speaker and chairman of Kennedy’s
California campaign, grabbed one of my hands and Rosey Grier, the
football star-turned-minister, grabbed the other as we joined the ring
of protection.

There was a door directly behind the small stage that led into the
hotel kitchen. Kennedy was whisked away through that door and I headed
to little bank of pay telephones on the wall to the right of the stage.
We didn’t have cell phones then. I got to the phones – there were only
three or four – when people started screaming and I heard what sounded
like balloons popping. I dialed my office. I said, “This is Sandi.
Something is happening….” Click. I was put on hold. Not even a word
from the guy on the desk.

Fortunately, we had a second news operation at the Registrar of
Voters headquarters. I got a live person when I called, grabbed the arm
of a hysterical, crying woman and said, “Please talk to the nice man on
the other end and don’t give this phone to anyone.” She did, I found
out what happened and dictated to the “nice man on the other end.” To
my surprise, little insignificant City News Service had the first
bulletin out on the assassination. Of course, NBC showed it live on
television, so we didn’t really have it first – just the first wire
bulletin.

Kennedy was first taken to Central Receiving Hospital (closed many
years ago). I suppose you’d now call it a trauma center – Central
Receiving was where they took Los Angeles police offices wounded in the
line of duty. After emergency treatment at Central Receiving, he was
then taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.

I spent the night sitting on the hood of a police patrol car in
front of Good Sam, watching along with other reporters the parade of
family members who went into the hospital. Every once in a while, I’d
find a pay phone and dictate an update. A room was opened in the
hospital for the press around 8 a.m. My office sent me home to get some
sleep. In what seemed like minutes after drifting off into a deep
sleep, the phone rang. Kennedy was dead and his body was being flown
home. I was to go to LAX to cover it.

I did. And at a hastily constructed row of pay phones, I dictated
the goodbye story as the plane roared over my head, then banked and
turned east. Tears were running down my face. It was the first time
that I had cried covering a news story.

Note: Sandi Gibbons is public information officer for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.


About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in @news, LAPD, Politics, RFK and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Voices–Sandi Gibbons

  1. fibber mcgee says:

    I heard those same “balloons popping” as Sandi did. That’s exactly what they sounded like. I was in the middle of the ballroom in front of RFK when he made his remarks to the crowd. People pushed and shoved to stay in position or move closer. It seemed like a rock star press conference with screaming fans. We thought the event was all over when RKF left the auditorium but then the sound of “balloons” and everything was just never quite the same. Good reporting, Sandi.

    Like

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