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Kennedy a name Natrona man would not soon forget

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Mary Eileen Conroy-Malecki holds a photo of her father, Tom Conroy, when he met then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy at a state Knights of Columbus banquet in Pittsburgh in 1957.  Photographed at her Brackenridge home on Friday, November 15, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Mary Eileen Conroy-Malecki holds a photo of her father, Tom Conroy, when he met then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy at a state Knights of Columbus banquet in Pittsburgh in 1957. Photographed at her Brackenridge home on Friday, November 15, 2013.

Editor's note: Of all of the people who contacted the Valley News Dispatch regarding their JFK memories, we found one who was able to bring us a story of actually meeting President Kennedy. But Mary Eileen Conroy-Malecki of Brackenridge could only relate that her late father, Tom Conroy, had shared the dais with Kennedy during a banquet in Pittsburgh. As it turns out, the VND interviewed Conroy just before his death in January 2002. Excerpts from that story are included below.

In the Knights of Columbus, Tom Conroy was a prince. He was known as “Mr. Natrona Council” for his active role in the local Knights organization and his work with the K of C statewide.

His ties with the Natrona council were tight. When Conroy was in high school, he had a job setting up pins for duckpin bowling at the Natrona Knights of Columbus. His father cofounded the council in 1926.

The council remains on Garfield Street in the Harrison Township community and is named in Conroy's honor.

After joining the K of C after World War II, Conroy threw himself into it and its charitable work. By 1956, at age 36, Conroy became the head of the state Knights of Columbus council, a post he held for two years.

And it was as the state council head that Conroy met John F. Kennedy. He said in late 2001 that meeting the future president was one of his greatest thrills. Conroy said Kennedy — then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts — attended a banquet in 1957 at what then was the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh.

Conroy recalled sitting at the dais between Kennedy and former Pittsburgh Mayor David L. Lawrence. The three were discussing New York City Mayor Robert Wagner because he had spoken at the banquet the year before.

Conroy said, when it came time for him to give his speech, he went to the podium and referred to Kennedy as the honorable gentleman from Massachusetts, Sen. Robert Wagner.

But Conroy said he wasn't the only speaker to call Kennedy the wrong name that night.

When Lawrence introduced Kennedy, he also called Kennedy by the wrong name.

When Kennedy stepped up to the microphone, Conroy said Kennedy laughed and said, “I'm the senator from Massachusetts, Jack Kennedy.”

He was a really nice guy, Conroy said. He watched his Ps and Qs.

When the waitress asked him if he wanted a drink, Conroy said Kennedy told the waitress, “They can think I'm drinking a martini. Bring me a glass of water with lemon juice in it.”

Mary Eileen Conroy-Malecki of Brackenridge, Conroy's daughter, said recently that family lore has it that Conroy bestowed some sort of Knights of Columbus honor upon Kennedy that night, but the full story isn't known by her nor her nine brothers and sisters.

Tom Conroy, a lifelong Natrona resident, got a souvenir from that night — a photo of himself and JFK. When he retired in 1980 as head of customer service and production control at Allegheny Ludlum in Brackenridge, the company presented him with a large, framed version of the photo.

To call the framed photo a cherished family memento would be an understatement, Conroy-Malecki said.

“To know my father had that experience ... that means the world to us,” she said.

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