It was in 1973 on a hot August day on Cape Cod when I got the word that Pam Kelley had been in an accident.
We frequently drove to Hyannis Port to hang out with her brother John, but the fact that he had four sisters didn’t hurt either. There was Karen who was a few months older than me, then Kim, Pam and Candy. We could always count on there being something interesting going on with John. For example, one afternoon John, Tom Higham, and I painted a huge black and white face of a hippie on the door of the garage next to their house.
Another time a friend of mine and I were sitting on a curb in Hyannis Port and two lady tourists pulled up and asked us where the Kennedy Compound was. We said we weren’t sure but that they should ask the two guys walking just a half block ahead of us and we pointed to them. The women gave us a strange look and headed off on their own. Little did they know that the boys we directed them to ask were Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his brother David. We laughed.
That August day Pam and her sister Kim had been over on Nantucket with Joe, Robert, and David Kennedy, along with another girl from out of town. Robert and Kim had been an item for quite a while. Pam and David had just started their own relationship.
Joe was driving what was described in the news as a Jeep that had an open top and a roll bar. The girls were hanging on to the roll bar as Joe cruised around the island roads heading for the beach. Joe screwed up and managed to flip the vehicle tossing most of the occupants out. Pam landed and couldn’t get up. She was airlifted to Cape Cod Hospital.
I don’t remember who called me and let me know, but as soon as I found out I headed over to the hospital to see her. I told them that I was her brother so I could go into the ICU and talk with her. She was in pretty good spirits and told me that the surgeons had been putting ice on her spine trying to calm the spasms and help her fractures. Pam would never walk again.
David had fractured a vertebrae, but would recover long enough to become a junkie and die of an overdose in Florida about ten years later. Robert and Joe didn’t seem to have any permanent injuries. Kim would suffer from a blood clot in her brain about a year later, but survive it. The girl from out of town suffered a broken pelvis. Some of us would visit her in the hospital since we knew she didn’t have any friends or relatives on the Cape.
Joe would have his license suspended and be fined $100. The Insurance on the Jeep netted Pam nearly $700,000 in compensation. Since she was a minor her father became trustee of the small fortune. Within about four years he had managed to turn it to zero dollars. She was broke.
During the first couple years following her accident Pam fought with depression, drugs, and alcohol. Through her own tenacity and force of will she overcame those demons and worked her way to become director of CORD (Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled). She was married for a while and out of that she has a daughter, now in her teens. She has had to work hard for everything she has accomplished and then work even harder to retain it. If I had to pick person that I most admire for their courage in the face of adversity I would certainly pick Pam.
Is there a moral to this story? Maybe it is that we should never take for granted that while the automobile provides us with an immense amount of freedom and fun, it is still a deadly weapon if we don’t show it the respect it deserves.
Then again, maybe it is that we should never take anything for granted and no matter what life hands us always look to the future and where we want to go with it.