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2014 Archives

Renowned scholars to discuss impact
of presidential death, illness, scandal

Feb 18-19 symposium: When life strikes the White House

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White House

February 17, 2014

DALLAS (SMU) — American presidents are not exempt from death, illness or scandal. SMU and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will present a two-day symposium that examines how personal crises have affected U.S. presidents’ abilities and, in some instances, altered the course of American history.  

The symposium will open at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the Sixth Floor Museum at 411 Elm Street, Dallas, with a keynote lecture by noted syndicated columnist and lecturer Richard Reeves. Reeves is a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and is the author of “President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” a Kennedy biography that Jacqueline Onassis insisted her children read to learn about their father. At the time of the JFK assassination, Reeves was a correspondent with the Newark Evening News.

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, the symposium continues with a daylong series of panel discussions at SMU’s Bob Hope Theatre in the Owen Arts Center, 6101 Bishop Blvd., Dallas, featuring some of the nation’s foremost historians, writers and leaders. The event concludes after a 7 p.m. capstone presentation at the George W. Bush Institute Auditorium, 2943 SMU Blvd., Dallas, by Ambassador Karen Hughes, who served as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and as counselor to former President George W. Bush. Hughes is Worldwide Vice Chair for public relations and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

Tickets are $25 per person for the Feb. 18 Reeves keynote lecture, and may be purchased online through the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.  The second day of the symposium on the SMU campus is free with advanced registration.

Americans expect their presidents to be supermen, wise under pressure, impervious to the misfortunes of life,” says Jeffrey Engel, director of SMU’s Center for Presidential History. “But when they suffer a life crisis, the nation feels it. This symposium explores how crises in our president’s personal lives have affected their presidencies, their policies and American history exploring ultimately what happens to us all when life strikes the White House.”

The symposium events on Wednesday include three panel discussions and lunch on-site with archivists from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The panels are:

  • Personal Crises and Public Responsibility, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
SMU Professor Rita Kirk
Rita Kirk

Moderated by Rita Kirk, director of SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility and Altshuler distinguished teaching professor in SMU’s Department of Communication Studies, the panel will examine presidents John Tyler, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan. Featured panelists include Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library; Daniel Feller, professor of history and editor and director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; Kiron K. Skinner, W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and founding director of the Center of International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University; and William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin professor of history at Duke University.

  • Death and the Presidency, 10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Talmage Boston
Talmage Boston

Moderated by Talmage Boston, SMU Tower Center board member and a commercial litigator at Winstead law firm, the panel will focus on presidents Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy. Featured panelists include Michael F. Holt, the Langbourne M. Williams professor of American history emeritus at the University of Virginia; Michael Burlingame, Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield; Amity Shlaes, chairman of the board of directors for the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation and director of the Four Percent Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute; and David Nasaw, the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

  • Presidential Illness, 1:45-3:15 p.m.
Dennis Simon
Dennis Simon

Moderated by Dennis Simon, director of U.S. economy and politics at SMU’s John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, and Altshuler distinguished teaching professor in the Department of Political Science, will highlight presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. Panelists include Tom Knock, the Altshuler distinguished teaching professor and associate professor in SMU’s Clements Department of History; Frank Costigliola, professor of history at the University of Connecticut; Randall Woods, the John A. Cooper professor of American history at the University of Arkansas; and Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown distinguished chair for leadership in global affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

The event is presented in partnership with SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, the Center for Presidential History, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The keynote lecture featuring, Richard Reeves, is sponsored by The Adolphus and American Airlines.


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