Paul Fay dies at 91; friend of JFK, former Navy official


Paul “Red” Fay, who met John F. Kennedy when they were both in the Navy, joined his administration as undersecretary of the Navy and then wrote a bestselling book about their friendship, has died. He was 91.

Fay obituary: In Wednesday’s Section A, the obituary of Paul “Red” Fay —former Navy undersecretary and friend of John F. Kennedy -- said that “Kennedy’s PT-109 was attacked in an event that made him a war hero” and that it was later repaired. The boat was struck in the darkness by a Japanese destroyer and sank.

Fay, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died Sept. 23 at his home in Woodside, Calif., said his son, Paul Fay III.

Fay met the future president in 1942 in Rhode Island. Their first meeting, in a story befitting the Kennedy legend, was during a touch football game that Kennedy joined in progress. Fay was there for torpedo-boat training and Kennedy was his instructor.


They became close friends after both of their boats were damaged -- Kennedy’s PT-109 was attacked in an event that made him a war hero, and Fay’s boat was struck by a torpedo, which earned him a Bronze Star. While the ships were repaired, they roomed together in a small Quonset hut, Fay’s son said.

Fay became a political supporter and advisor, with a view of Kennedy’s life that few other non-family members could match. His 1966 book, “The Pleasure of His Company,” provided readers still grieving for the assassinated president with new details about Kennedy’s life.

Fay told of patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy at a 1959 gathering lecturing family members about their out-of-control spending habits.

He reprinted the text of JFK’s July 1953 letter inviting him to his wedding to Jacqueline Bouvier, where Fay was an usher.

“I gave everything a good deal of thought -- so am getting married this fall,” Kennedy wrote. “This means the end of a promising political career as it has been based almost completely up to now on the old sex appeal.”

Other tidbits included Fay escorting actress Angie Dickinson to a pre-inaugural party and learning at the inaugural parade that he would be undersecretary of the Navy because that’s how President Kennedy introduced him to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Fay also disclosed Kennedy’s mood after the disastrous Bay of Pigs landing in 1961: “One day that spring we were driving . . . and as we came through the gate in front of the White House a number of people were standing near the entrance. Jack waved at the friendly crowd but then he said to me, ‘By God if they think they are going to get me to run for a second term they are out of their minds. They can have this job when I finish my four years.’ ”

Fay’s son said his father reminded the family often how special the years in Washington were. “He kept saying, ‘Gang, this is a very special time. It doesn’t roll around like this for everyone,’ ” his son said.

Paul Burgess Fay Jr. was born in San Francisco in 1918 and graduated from Stanford University in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

He joined the Navy shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II.

His father, Paul B. Fay Sr., was president of Fay Improvement Co., which built roads and sewers throughout San Francisco. Fay returned to San Francisco after leaving government in 1965. His son said he decided to shut the family business down because he “was no longer interested in that line of work.”

After working in investment banking for several years, Fay resurrected the company as a consulting firm.

Among his social and charitable activities was his work with Youth Tennis Advantage, a Bay Area organization that works with at-risk youngsters.

In addition to his son, Fay is survived by his wife of 62 years, Anita; two daughters, Katherine Fay of Delray Beach, Fla., and Sally Fay Cottingham of Cambridge, Mass., and seven grandchildren. A funeral Mass will be held Oct. 8 in San Francisco.

Memorial donations can be made to Youth Tennis Advantage, 610 16th St., No. 322, Oakland, CA 94612.