Radio Ceylon mourns the death of President John F.Kennedy

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sri Lanka: Peace Corps Sri Lanka: The Peace Corps in Sri Lanka: Radio Ceylon mourns the death of President John F.Kennedy

By asiaradionews ( - on Friday, January 16, 2004 - 1:33 pm: Edit Post


One of Sri Lanka's outstanding broadcasters, Vernon Corea, joined forces with the Peace Corp's first ever volunteer to Ceylon - Craig Thompson in 1963 to present a moving tribute to the late John F.Kennedy, on the day he was assasinated - on the airwaves of Radio Ceylon - the oldest radio station in South Asia. So many listeners all ver South Asia tuned into that moving tribute by Vernon Corea and Craig Thompson.

Craig Thompson who was with the Peace Corps soon gained popularity in the island of Ceylon by presenting 'Kiddies Korner' on Radio Ceylon. Sri Lankan children knew him as 'Craig Maama' or 'Uncle Craig.'

Read about this unique radio partnership on


Radio Ceylon in 1963

Where were you on the 22nd of November 1963?

It is a question on the lips of so many around the world and they think back to the day President John.F.Kennedy was assasinated in Dallas, Texas in the United States of America. President Kennedy's death stunned the people of Ceylon.

John F.Kennedy was viewed as a highly intelliegent, charismatic US President by many in South Asia including Ceylon. He was the youngest President of the United States, narrowly beating Richard Nixon in the Presidential Elections in 1961. He was 43 years old.

1961 was a historic year for both Ceylon and the United States of America.On 20th January 1961, John F.Kennedy was sworn in as the youngest ever elected President of the US. In Colombo, on the 20th of July 1961, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike widow of Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike was sworn in as the world's first woman prime minister.

Radio Ceylon, the first radio station in South Asia, broadcast news of both occasions.

Radio Ceylon highlighted the news of a visit of a delegation from Ceylon which included Dr.N.M.Perera. They met President Kennedy in the Oval Office in the White House in Washington. They were struck by his warmth, his intelligence and his humour. Ceylon and the United States enjoyed warm diplomatic relations during the Kennedy era.

The world was in shock when John F.Kennedy was assasinated at 1 pm on 22nd November 2003 in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas - he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald who fired shots from the top of the Book Depository building in Dealey Plaza.

The legendary newsman Walter Cronkite broke the news over CBS that Kennedy had been shot. Soon the newsflash that John F.Kennedy had died was broadcast over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon.

Vernon Corea on the front cover of the Radio Times in 1963 in Ceylon

In 1963 the popular Radio Ceylon Announcer, Vernon Corea worked as Commercial Assistant in the Commercial Service. It was Vernon who launched Radio Ceylon's tribute to President John F.Kennedy. Vernon included some of the great speeches made by JFK and announced the assasination of the youngest ever President in Dallas, Texas.

Vernon asked Craig Thompson, the young American Peace Corps volunteer - who was in the first batch of Peace Corps staff wotking in Ceylon, to co-present the radio program over the airwaves of Radio Ceylon.

Craig Thompson recounts the tragic day on 22nd November 1963:

'One of the most difficult requests anyone has ever made of me, was when
Vernon requested that I record a 30 minute tribute of condolences following
the death of President John F. Kennedy--shortly after the assassination. It
was all I could do to "hold it together" while I read the sad messages that
had come in from all around the world. But Vernon was there to help me get
through it all.'

John F.Kennedy was held in respect in Ceylon - by Ceylonese politicians across the political divide. President Kennedy never visited Ceylon, although his rival in the Presidential Elections, Richard Nixon visited Colombo in the 1950s.

People across South Asia were taken up by the youngest ever American President and all that he stood for. They mourned this tragic loss. The Government of Ceylon even released a special First Day Cover in 1963 titled 'Ceylon mourns the death of President John F.Kennedy.'

Vernon Corea never met John F.Kennedy however in 1986 he visited Washington and the John F.Kennedy Center when his brother, Ernest Corea was Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the United States. Vernon was the BBC's Ethnic Minorities Adviser at the time.

It was a very special moment for Vernon, as he stood in the foyer of the John F.Kennedy Center in Washington in 1986. In 1963, Vernon together with Craig Thompson, led Radio Ceylon's tribute to a great American President.

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