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Saving Stories: a tribute to UK historian, prolific oral history pioneer Terry Birdwhistell

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This past weekend the University of Kentucky, and all of the Commonwealth lost a treasure in former dean of UK Libraries Terry L. Birdwhistell. Over a 40+ year span with the university, the Kentucky native conducted nearly 1,000 oral history interviews and was responsible for establishing the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. In this special edition of WUKY's award winning history series Saving Stories, Nunn Center director Dr. Doug Boyd shares the story of how and when his colleague, mentor and friend managed to score a one-on-one interview with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1981.

In this 1981 interview with Terry Birdwhistell for the John Sherman Cooper project Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis explains her first impressions of Judge John Sherman Cooper and says that he was a very fine man. She was friends with Lorraine, who would later become Copper's wife. Onassis remembers various social engagements with the Coopers. The Kennedys' first dinner party after John F. Kennedy was elected president was with the Coopers. The Coopers also came to dinner when Life Magazine did a feature on the Kennedys. Onassis describes John Sherman Cooper as a very wise man.


In this 2015 interview Terry Birdwhistell discusses the beginning of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky in the 1970s. He talks about their early projects, which focused on the lives and careers of Kentucky politicians. He talks about oral history methods and equipment, as well as the philosophy of the Nunn Center in terms of experimenting with new ideas.

Birdwhistell talks about the oral history project the Nunn Center was conducting on the life and career of John Sherman Cooper. He talks about Cooper's relationship with John and Jackie Kennedy, which led Birdwhistell to consider interviewing Jackie Kennedy for the project. He talks about navigating his way through New York, and his nervousness prior to the interview. He talks about the equipment he used and the technical difficulties he experienced with the earpiece of his recorder. Birdwhistell discusses the interview itself and the types of questions he asked Jackie Kennedy. Birdwhistell talks about how Jackie Kennedy signed a release form for the interview with no questions, but says he received a call from her attorney later asking to renegotiate the terms of the release. He talks about why he chose not to publicize having conducted this interview. He talks about a biographer writing a book on Jackie Kennedy who came to the library to use the interview.


The Terry/Jackie interview story was the topic of the first episode of the Nunn Center's podcast series "The Wisdom Project"


Alan Lytle has more than 25 years of experience as a Kentucky broadcaster. Over that span he has earned multiple awards for anchoring, writing and producing news & features for WUKY. He took home the Kentucky Broadcasters Association's Best Radio Anchor award in 2021.