Priscilla Johnson McMillan, believed to be the one particular person to have conversed extensively with each John F. Kennedy and his murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald, died on July 7 at her residence in Cambridge, Mass. She was 92.
Her niece Holly-Katharine Johnson confirmed the loss of life. She mentioned Ms. McMillan had been in hospice care since injuring her backbone in a fall a number of months in the past.
Like practically everybody, Ms. McMillan was shocked on Nov. 22, 1963, by studies that President Kennedy had been murdered. But strolling via Harvard Square when she heard that the president — who was additionally her former boss — had been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, she was one in every of a only a few who had one other thought as nicely.
“My God,” she instructed a good friend. “I know that boy.”
Several different folks had briefly encountered each males, however Ms. McMillan had conferred with each. She had handled Kennedy in Washington as an adviser on Indochina in 1953, when he was a senator. And as a journalist, she had interviewed Mr. Oswald, a 20-year-old disillusioned Marine veteran, in Moscow in 1959 about why he was defecting to the Soviet Union.
She would later spend seven months interviewing Mr. Oswald’s Russian-born widow, Marina, and 13 years researching and writing a ebook, “Marina and Lee: The Tormented Love and Fatal Obsession Behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” which was printed in 1977.
Mrs. Oswald obtained two-thirds of the advance for the ebook and a share of the royalties.
Thomas Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and creator, wrote in The New York Times Book Review that “Marina and Lee” persuasively challenged conspiracy theories involving Cubans, Communists, American intelligence brokers and a number of gunmen firing on the presidential motorcade from a number of areas.
“Other books in regards to the Kennedy assassination are all smoke and no fireplace,” one reviewer mentioned. “‘Marina and Lee’ burns.”
Instead, Mr. Powers wrote, Ms. McMillan’s ebook made a convincing case that Mr. Oswald was a lone gunman who “rationalized the assassination as a salutary shock for a complacent public” — though “his real motive emerges as a desperate desire to transcend the obscurity and impotence to which fate was inexorably confining him.”
“Other books about the Kennedy assassination are all smoke and no fire,” Mr. Powers continued. “‘Marina and Lee’ burns. If you can find the heart to read it, you may finally begin to forget the phantom gunmen on the grassy knoll.”
Ms. McMillan mentioned she remembered Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the president’s sister, asking her at a Washington ceremonial dinner, “Why did Oswald hate my brother so?” To which she replied: “He didn’t. Oswald liked him. And he liked Jackie, too.”
But Ms. McMillan revealed Mr. Oswald as a confused, self-tutored Marxist who had soured on the American authorities’s aggressive prosecution of the Rosenberg atom spy ring and its lax enforcement of civil rights, and on capitalism’s exploitation of employees like his mom.
Ms. McMillan later instructed The Christian Science Monitor that whereas Mr. Oswald by no means talked about Kennedy in that 1959 interview, he indicated that he had no qualms about resorting to homicide as a political weapon. “From our conversation,” she added, “I could see that he was a man capable of a whole lot.”
In addition to writing “Marina and Lee,” Ms. McMillan translated “Twenty Letters to a Friend” (1967), a memoir by Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s daughter, who had defected to the United States, and wrote “The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race” (2005), in regards to the scientist behind the atomic bomb who was falsely labeled a Soviet spy in the course of the Red Scare of the 1950s.
“Priscilla combined the best traits of an investigative reporter, a scholar and an inquisitive citizen, pursuing exhaustive research and doing her best to be fair to all parties,” mentioned Mark Kramer, director of the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the place Ms. McMillan was an affiliate.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists, mentioned that within the 1990s, “Priscilla helped inspire and support efforts to accelerate the declassification of Cold War U.S. government records.” He added, “She was a wonderfully generous colleague who was always ready to share her own findings and to support other authors and students in their research.”
In Ms. McMillan’s later years, her residence in Cambridge, close to Harvard, grew to become one thing of a hostel for wayward college students and students, a literary and political salon within the European custom and a base for her campaigns on behalf of Soviet dissidents and different causes.
Priscilla Mary Post Johnson was born on July 19, 1928, in Locust Valley, N.Y., on Long Island, right into a household descended from the Pilgrims. Her father, Stuart Holmes Johnson Sr., was a financier. Her mom, Mary Eunice (Clapp) Johnson, was a homemaker.
She attended the non-public Brearley School in Manhattan and graduated in 1950 from Bryn Mawr College, the place she majored in Russian and was energetic within the World Federalist Society, which advocates democratic world authorities. She earned a grasp’s in Russian research and Soviet regulation from Radcliffe College in 1953.
She married George McMillan, an creator and journalist who lined the civil rights motion, in 1966. They divorced in 1982. He died in 1987. No instant members of the family survive.
Ms. McMillan in 2016. “Priscilla combined the best traits of an investigative reporter, a scholar and an inquisitive citizen,” a colleague mentioned.Credit…Steerforth Press
She labored as a translator and for Senator Kennedy as an adviser on Asia (though she acknowledging that she was underqualified), and she remained involved with him for a number of years after. She moved to the Soviet Union in 1955 however was expelled with different United States residents after an American U-2 spy airplane was shot down over Russia in 1960; she would return there to reside a number of instances.
In an interview with The Atlantic in 2013, she mentioned that when Mr. Oswald left the Soviet Union along with his Russian spouse and baby, disillusioned along with his adopted nation’s forms, “They were glad to be rid of him. The Russians sized him up, very accurately, for what he was: a nut.”
Her 1959 interview with Mr. Oswald at the Metropole Hotel in Moscow, for an article for the North American Newspaper Alliance, started by quoting him: “For two years now I’ve been ready to do that one factor. To dissolve my American citizenship and develop into a citizen of the Soviet Union.”
He added that he additionally had a bigger life mission.
“I want,” Mr. Oswald mentioned, “to give the people of the United States something to think about.”