“Lord Beaverbrook and the Kennedys” by James Downey

This is a small but fascinating book about three well-known figures in political history. Lord Beaverbrook and the Kennedys were famous in both Britain and the United States. But it is in New Brunswick, Canada, that they came together in a most unusual way.

Telling the story is James Downey, a Newfoundlander and professor of English who once taught at Carleton University but then, as he says, “fell from grace into academic administration” and became president of Carleton, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Waterloo, where he is now President Emeritus. It was his l0 years at UNB (l980-l990) that led him to write this book.

The protagonist is Lord Beaverbrook, who grew up in New Brunswick but pursued his business dealings to England where he got into journalism, built the “Daily Express” into one of the most successful newspapers in the world and was also elected a member of parliament and made a peer. Max Aitken became Lord Beaverbrook. One of his friends at this time was Joe Kennedy, American ambassador to the U.K.

In the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made him Minister of Aircraft Production, where he helped greatly in the crucial Battle of Britain. Later, Churchill sent him as a go-between with President Roosevelt to gain support for Britain’s war effort.

The book shows (with good illustrations) how these relationships led to close friendship with the Kennedy family. In later years when first Jack, then Bobby Kennedy were invited to speak at the University of New Brunswick, in spite of their heavy loads at home both accepted. The speeches are reproduced here and Downey points out the rhetorical skill and craft, as well as what he calls “the American tradition of public oratory which they draw upon.”

Altogether we get an up-close look at an endlessly absorbing period of history, of our country as well as the U.K. and U.S. An unusually good book.

Review by Anne McDougall