A NEW FRIEND AT THE RICE HOTEL

On Nov. 21, 1963, after flying from San Antonio to Houston International Airport (now Houston Hobby) and riding on the Gulf Freeway to downtown, President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy arrived at the Rice Hotel at about 5 p.m.

After greeting onlookers near the hotel entrance, they went to the fifth-floor International Suite and had dinner (Chinese bird's nest soup, Harris County quail with foie gras and black Angus beef garnished with artichokes). Mrs. Kennedy took a nap.

The Kennedys then left their suite to address a meeting of the League of United Latin American Citizens in the Grand Ballroom. Both spoke at the meeting, as did Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Mrs. Kennedy provided her remarks in Spanish.

Before leaving the Rice, the President, Mrs. Kennedy, and several Secret Service men stopped briefly on the fifth-floor hallway when Mary Kathryn Klarfield, nine-year-old daughter of hotel employee Richard Klarfield, stepped over a red velvet rope held up by gold columns. "Hello there," said President Kennedy, as about 30 others behind the rope looked on.

Not knowing exactly what to say, Mary decided to introduce the President to her father. "President Kennedy, I would like for you to meet my father. Dad, this is President Kennedy."

Her father was speechless. President Kennedy shook her father's hand and then asked her name. "Mary Kay," she said proudly. He shook her hand and then continued his walk toward the elevator with the Secret Service men.

The Kennedys left the Rice and went to a dinner honoring U.S. Rep. Albert Thomas at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Then they flew to Fort Worth and spent the night at the Hotel Texas. The schedule for remainder of their five-city Texas trip included visits to Dallas and Austin.

Mary Kay didn't want to wash her hands. She prepared a report to give the next day to her fourth-grade class at Woodview Elementary. Right before her report, the principal announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Later, after hearing he had died, she cried and felt that she had lost a new friend.

(Other visits to the Rice: On Sept. 12, 1960, Sen. Kennedy, then the Democratic Party nominee for President, spoke to the Houston Ministerial Alliance at the Rice Hotel. On Sept. 12, 1962, President Kennedy spoke at Rice Stadium about the space program and stayed at the Rice Hotel.)

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Nov. 20, 1988, Page 5M, "JFK Made Three Houston Trips" by Lynwood Abram; Houston Chronicle's Texas Magazine, April 5, 1998, page 8, "Once Upon a Time at the Rice" by Ralph Bivins; "The Death of a President" by William Manchester, pages 78-86; Mary Klarfield Coel, 2006 recollection. Researched and written by Greg Clock.

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