John Jay Hooker, Associate of Robert Kennedy, Dies at 85

Robert Kennedy, left, chief counsel for the Senate rackets committee, arrives with his wife, Ethel, for a two-day visit in Nashville on Dec. 5, 1958. Greeting the couple is Nashville attorney John J. Hooker. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jimmy Ellis / The Tennessean)
Robert Kennedy, left, chief counsel for the Senate rackets committee, arrives with his wife, Ethel, for a two-day visit in Nashville on Dec. 5, 1958. Greeting the couple is Nashville attorney John J. Hooker. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jimmy Ellis / The Tennessean)

John Jay Hooker, who was perhaps Tennessee’s most recognizable and charismatic political figure, and one of its most controversial, died Sunday. He was 85.

Hooker, who had been battling cancer since January, died peacefully with family and friends at Alive Hospice in Nashville.

Hooker never held an elected office, but, during the 1960’s, as an intimate of and special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, he played a crucial, often behind the scenes, role in shaping America’s public policy. Hooker lived with the Kennedy family while serving as the attorney general’s special assistant.

It was Hooker who convinced Kennedy that the Justice Department should intervene in the Baker v. Carr lawsuit in which the U.S. Supreme Court established the standard of “one man, one vote,” and forced states to reapportion legislative districts in favor of cities and African-Americans.

“Without the influence of John Jay Hooker, and (former USA TODAY editor) John Seigenthaler,” said James D. Squires, the former Chicago Tribune editor who, as a Tennessean reporter, covered Hooker, “we would not have ‘one man, one vote,” and the civil rights movement would have been very different.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Frank Daniels III