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Fay Vincent: Executive Privilege

The celebrated American novelist, now deceased, William Styron ("Sophie's Choice," etc.) has a book of memoirs out - "Havanas in Camelot."

The title derives from a day cruise off Cape Cod that he took with the then-President John F. Kennedy in summer 1963 and Kennedy offered Styron a sybaritic Cuban cigar despite the embargo on all Cuban imports.

Styron marveled that the president who had imposed the embargo was nevertheless proffering the illegal stogie, and nothing much was made of it. I can confirm that strong Kennedy affection for a Cuban cigar with my own story.

In the late 1970s, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg had his office in our Washington law firm, and it so happened that his huge quarters were next door to my.

less-opulent digs. And with that proximity, there were many days when he would take a stroll down the hall and drop into my office for a brief chat.

I came to enjoy those visits because he often told me wonderfully interesting stories about some of the fascinating people he had encountered during his long public career.

And as one of my law partners once dryly commented, the guy has one hell of a resume. And so Goldberg did.

He had been counsel to the steelworkers union, secretary of labor in the Kennedy years, Supreme Court justice appointed by Kennedy, U.N. ambassador and later candidate for governor of New York in an ill-fated foray into elected politics.

He also argued the famous Curt Flood case in the Supreme Court, when he and Flood unsuccessfully challenged the reserve clause that kept Major League Baseball players from ever having the freedom to leave one team for another.

On this occasion Goldberg walked in while I was puffing on my after-lunch cigar.

"Is that a Cuban?" he asked, and when I explained it was not because I could neither afford nor find a Cuban, he told me the following story.

"During the Cuban missile crisis, every time I saw the president on the second floor of the White House, he was smoking a Cuban cigar.

"And finally, after several days, I asked him if he didn't feel odd smoking that Cuban cigar during this confrontation.

" 'Look, Arthur,' he said. 'I am addicted to these cigars. I love them and I have a standing order with the British ambassador, (David) Ormsby-Gore, to bring me a couple of boxes every time he comes back here from London.' "

Ever after, I never felt bad about smoking a Cuban. If the president could indulge, then my guilt was assuaged. And I recalled what Goldberg told me as I read of Styron's experience.

Cigars make people do odd things.

Rudyard Kipling wrote many years ago a famous poem celebrating the fellow who chose his cigars over his wife, Maggie, when she ordered him to give up his beloved cheroot or else.

"A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a good smoke."

There is much evidence Jack Kennedy would not have agreed.

Vincent, an author and former commissioner of Major League baseball, is a part-time resident of Indian River County.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Fay Vincent: Executive Privilege