Nancy Leff

is director of Leff-Laffs Communications in Pittsburgh

Forty years ago I touched his hand. Two months later, I touched his coffin. And last month I finally touched the stone at his Arlington grave.

June 5 will be the 40th anniversary of his assassination.

Bobby Kennedy was my hero while I was a student at Temple University. I met him for the first time at the Philadelphia airport as he came down the airplane steps (yes, the old days), and somehow I managed to walk with him and Ethel Kennedy as he talked to me and held my hand all the way up the two-story escalator.

A month after that first meeting, the Kennedy people bused groups of Students for Bobby from Philadelphia to Washington, where we canvassed neighborhoods. Once again I met him, along with the football player Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, an ardent Kennedy supporter and bodyguard, and I was in heaven. My self-made cardboard sign said, "On the 7th of May Vote RFK," and on the other side I wrote, "We KEN Do Better." I still cherish that sign, along with Bobby's and Ethel's autographs on them.

Two months after getting my RFK pictures developed, and still not down from the clouds, I was back home in Pittsburgh, having just fallen asleep as my parents watched TV. It was June 4, 1968, the night of the California Democratic presidential primary, a very close-fought battle between Kennedy and Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Kennedy was not assured of victory, and even if he had won, many believed he might not get the nomination over then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy's campaign headquarters was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

I fell asleep with my transistor radio next to my ear. I awoke in the middle of the night to the words, "Los Angeles shooting . . . " and I knew. He lasted through June 5 but died the next day.

A few days later, I was with my Temple roommate in Manhattan in line for six hours to walk by Bobby's coffin and touch it as Sidney Poitier and New York Mayor John Lindsay looked on.

I moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Temple. After years of getting chills every time I drove past the Ambassador Hotel, I finally did go in - but couldn't even stand being in there, and ran out. I was glad when it closed.

Five years ago, I again met Rosey Grier, when he spoke at a peace breakfast in Santa Barbara County. Arriving at dawn with my RFK scrapbook, I talked to Rosey about those days. He autographed the pic I took of him 35 years earlier, and this gentle man of peace was delighted to reminisce with me.

This April, having had a speaking engagement outside Washington, I completed the cycle by touching the stone at Bobby's grave while both tearing up and smiling. I took a few photos of his grave and JFK's, and a few days later I finished that roll of old-fashioned film with photos of Hillary and Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton is not Bobby. But today, with her and with Barack Obama, we have something I wasn't sure I'd see in this lifetime, and it gives me hope again.

What I mean by that is the belief that things can and will get better. RFK did bring hope at a time when it was desperately needed, and he called for calm when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered (it is horrible to reflect, only two months before Kennedy's own murder). It was a tragic year. And for me the tragedy continued because my beloved father died, too. The two men I adored the most were gone.

I live back in my Burgh hometown now, and holding Robert Kennedy's hand is still one of the highlights of my life. I was an idealistic student, even too young to vote for him, and he touched my heart to a depth no political figure has come anywhere near and probably never will again in this life. Today we need his spirit more than ever.

Many of us '60s activists are still out there promoting peace. Forty years on, I still believe in it. I smile when I think of Bobby, and I get sad for what might have been.

Contact Nancy Leff at lefflaffs@aol.com.