Bill Barry

FBI agent who be­came body­guard to Robert Kennedy and loved a late-night Dublin drink, writes Liam Collins

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Deaths snd Obituaries -

BILL Barry was Robert Kennedy’s un­armed body­guard the night he was as­sas­si­nated in the kitchens of the Am­bas­sador Ho­tel in Los An­ge­les, shortly af­ter win­ning the Demo­cratic Party pri­mary in Cal­i­for­nia, dur­ing the early stages of the 1968 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Sec­onds af­ter the shoot­ing, on June 5, Barry leapt on the killer Sirhan Sirhan punch­ing him twice in the face as foot­baller Rosey Grier, de­cathlon cham­pion Rafer John­son and jour­nal­ist George Plimp­ton wres­tled him to the ground.

De­spite the event which ended the dream of an­other Kennedy in the White House, Barry re­mained part of the Kennedy fam­ily in­ner cir­cle and was par­tic­u­larly close to Robert’s widow Ethel and his sis­ter Jean Kennedy Smith.

He was a fre­quent vis­i­tor to Ire­land, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing Kennedy Smith’s ten­ure as US am­bas­sador, usu­ally in the com­pany of Bill Flynn, the wealthy Ir­ish-Amer­i­can head of Mu­tual of Amer­ica, who was deeply in­volved in the peace process. Al­though he stayed in the Berke­ley Court, Barry was par­tic­u­larly fond of an ‘af­ter hours’ drink in Hynes pub in Bag­got Street — and was so en­am­oured of the sub­terfuge in­volved that one night he was found knock­ing on the win­dow when the pub was still of­fi­cially open.

The publi­can Dessie Hynes ded­i­cated the ‘Bill Barry Room’ on the premises in his hon­our.

Wil­liam G Barry, who died on Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 5, at the age of 91, was raised in Brook­lyn, New York, join­ing the US navy at the age of 17 and served dur­ing World War Two. Af­ter­wards he went to Kent State Univer­sity, Ohio, where he met his fu­ture wife Mary Lou and grad­u­ated in 1951 with a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence.

Af­ter a spell as a po­lice­man he was ap­pointed as Spe­cial Agent with the FBI. His close ties with the Kennedy fam­ily be­gan with a chance en­counter when Bobby Kennedy, then At­tor­ney Gen­eral, vis­ited the FBI of­fice in New York.

The two men hit if off and Barry was as­signed to the young AG dur­ing his vis­its to the city. “Robert Kennedy de­tected a kin­dred spirit in many ways, in­clud­ing scep­ti­cism about J Edgar Hoover (head of the FBI),” said the his­to­rian Arthur Schlesinger Jnr. Hoover loathed the Kennedys in gen­eral and when he learned that Barry had taken hol­i­days to be Robert Kennedy’s driver dur­ing his suc­cess­ful cam­paign to be­come a sen­a­tor for New York in 1965 he had him trans­ferred to Mo­bile, Alabama.

Two months later, af­ter 14 years’ ser­vice, Barry quit the FBI and set him­self up as a se­cu­rity con­sul­tant, us­ing his ex­ten­sive Kennedy and Ir­ish-Amer­i­can con­nec­tions.

When Robert Kennedy de­cided to seek the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion he be­came his per­sonal body­guard and a mem­ber of the cam­paign’s in­ner cir­cle. On the night of the shoot­ing Kennedy was per­suaded by the tele­vi­sion net­works to watch the re­sults come in at the Em­bassy Ball­room of the Am­bas­sador Ho­tel, where they had set up their equip­ment.

Their exit was chaotic and while Barry and an­other aide held the kitchen doors open Sirhan Sirhan ap­peared from be­hind an ice-mak­ing ma­chine and gunned down Kennedy and in­jured two oth­ers.

“He (Kennedy) was go­ing to live his life and not be con­stantly fear­ful of what might hap­pen, he only ac­cepted as much pro­tec­tion as he got be­cause he liked me,” said Bill Barry af­ter­wards. “It’s been the most up­set­ting thing in his whole life, he tried to get over it but it’s af­fected ev­ery as­pect of his life,” said his wife.

Af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion, Bill Barry re­turned to se­cu­rity work and be­came pres­i­dent of Smith & Wes­son Con­sul­tancy, vice-pres­i­dent of Bankers Trust and Franklin Na­tional Bank and was an of­fi­cer of Re­liance Group In­sur­ance. In 1976 prom­i­nent Ir­ish Amer­i­can, Gov­er­nor Hugh Carey, ap­pointed him chair­man of the New York State Rac­ing Com­mis­sion.

A keen sports­man, he had boxed in the navy and was a ded­i­cated fol­lower of the ‘Fight­ing Ir­ish’ Notre Dame Foot­ball team and a hand­ball cham­pion. He took a keen in­ter­est in Gaelic games when he was in Ire­land. He was also close to other prom­i­nent Ir­ish-Amer­i­can fig­ures, in­clud­ing the late Tom Moran.

“If some­one wanted a short list of ex­perts on cor­po­rate se­cu­rity and in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, Bill Barry would be on it, he just knew ev­ery­body ev­ery­where,” said one busi­ness as­so­ci­ate.

His fam­ily lunch in Neary’s pub in New York on St Pa­trick’s Day was leg­endary as were the 4th of July gather­ings at his home out­side New York.

He was also a house guest at the Ted Kennedy es­tate in Palm Beach, Florida, the night Wil­liam Kennedy Smith was al­leged to have raped 29-yearold Patty Bow­man af­ter he and his un­cle Ted met a num­ber of women in the Au Bar that Good Fri­day night.

When Palm Beach po­lice called to the Kennedy com­pound the fol­low­ing morn­ing it was Bill Barry who opened the door. Po­lice later said he told them he didn’t know where the two Kennedys were — even though they were sit­ting down to Sun­day lunch in­side the house.

Barry main­tained that it was a mis­un­der­stand­ing and he would not have mis­led po­lice of­fi­cers. “We’re a po­lice fam­ily,” he said, “I was a po­lice­man, my brother was a po­lice­man and my son is one. I know they have a dif­fi­cult job to do,” he said in an in­ter­view.

In the event, Wil­liam Kennedy Smith was ac­quit­ted of the charges.

Last week, Robert F Kennedy Jr paid trib­ute to Barry on so­cial me­dia: “RIP Bill Barry,” he wrote. “My fa­ther’s fa­vorite G-man. His body­guard dur­ing the last cam­paign and a beloved friend to our fam­ily.”

Bill Barry is sur­vived by his wife of 65 years, Mary Lou, and his seven chil­dren. His fu­neral took place last Wed­nes­day in West Ny­ack, New York, with prom­i­nent Ir­ish fig­ures send­ing their con­do­lences.

GRIEF: Bill Barry hangs his head af­ter the Los An­ge­les shoot­ing of Robert Kennedy in 1968. Photo: Getty Im­ages/Bettmann

KIN­DRED SPIR­ITS: Robert Kennedy and Bill Barry hit it off when they met in the FBI of­fice in New York

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.