In this video, recorded on November 15, 2003, Liz Carpenter shares her firsthand account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy with Stephen Fagin of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Carpenter was executive assistant to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the time, and was consequently riding in the presidential motorcade when the shooting occurred. She was also aboard Air Force One when Johnson took the oath of office following Kennedy’s passing and wrote the 58-word statement President Johnson delivered upon the party’s arrival at Andrews Air Force Base.
Liz Carpenter was a writer, feminist, media advisor, and high-ranking White House staff member during the Johnson administration. Mary Elizabeth Sutherland was born in Salado, Texas in 1920, and spent most of her childhood in Austin. She met her husband, Les Carpenter, while working on her high school newspaper. The two went on to work together at the University of Texas newspaper, The Daily Texan, and were married in 1944. In 1942, Carpenter began covering the White House and Congress for Austin's newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, and after their wedding, Liz and Les moved to Washington D.C. and launched the Carpenter News Bureau. She and Les worked devotedly, only taking time off for the births of their children, Scott and Christy. Carpenter continued working as a reporter until joining Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign for vice president in 1960, traveling as a press spokeswoman until after the election when she became the first female Executive Assistant to the Vice President. Upon LBJ's succession to the presidency, Carpenter was promoted to Press Secretary to the First Lady, the first woman to hold that position. Carpenter is known for her quick wit and humor, and it came through in speeches she wrote for both Lady Bird and President Johnson. After LBJ's term, Carpenter devoted her time to writing and working for the National Women's Political Caucus, of which she was a founder, and working with ERAmerica to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. She later served for Presidents Ford, Carter, and Clinton on women's issues, education, and serving the senior population. Les died suddenly in 1974, and Liz returned to Austin in 1976, citing her love of family and love of Texas. She wrote Getting Better All the Time in 1986, Unplanned Parenthood in 1994, Start With a Laugh in 2000, and Presidential Humor in 2006, as well as many articles and lectures. Carpenter was given many awards throughout her life, including being named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in the 1980s. Two awards are named in her honor: the Liz Carpenter Lectureship at the University of Texas and the Liz Carpenter Award for the best scholarly book on the history of women and Texas. Carpenter died in Austin on March 20, 2010.