Paul Fay, Jr. (Friday FOIA Fun)

When Paul Burgess Bernard Fay, Jr. – known as “Red” to his friends, which included several members of the Kennedy family – was appointed as Undersecretary of the Navy by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, not many people outside of the California social scene had ever heard of Fay before. The extroverted and entertaining son of a reasonably successful construction magnate, Fay’s only experience with government service had been five years in the Navy during and immediately after WWII, during which he captained a PT boat, earned a Bronze Star, and befriended a fellow captain named Kennedy. Nonetheless, he became Undersecretary of the Navy in January 1961, and served in that capacity through 1965; he also served as Acting Secretary of the Navy for a few weeks in November 1963.

He wrote a memoir about his twenty-year friendship with JFK in 1966, called The Pleasure of His Company, and that was pretty much the last thing anyone ever heard about him, until his death in September 2009.

When he passed away, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, suspecting that they had performed an investigation of Fay in 1961.

This month, I was proved correct when I received a bit over a hundred pages of documents from that investigation…

The story begins on January 23th, 1961. On that date, a member of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s staff “dropped by” the FBI Headquarters and requested that a “Special Inquiry investigation” be conducted on Fay because of his nomination by the President. This meeting was recorded in a memorandum the next day, which ordered an investigation “for immediate attention”, and asked that the summary “go to the Attorney General to take up with the President as the President does not want this processed through his staff.” (FBI HQ Serial 161-212-2 – 209KB PDF.)

That meeting set in motion a whirlwind of activity, which ultimately culminated in a ten-page memo to the Attorney General from Director Hoover on 9 February 1961, detailing the largely uninteresting details of Fay’s life and career to date. By then Fay had been confirmed as Undersecretary of the Navy, so it was a bit of a moot point, politically.

In a nutshell, the Bureau interviewed dozens of people, dug into the background of Fay, his family, and associates, and found no significant detrimental information. Most people interviewed praised his character; a few questioned his suitability for his new post in light of his lack of serious government experience or business acumen. Checks revealed that Fay had been arrested three times in California while a student at Stanford – once for public intoxication, and twice – on the same night – for an interesting bout of alcohol-fueled college shennanigans:

The report concluded by noting that neither the Civil Service Commission, the Secret Service, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, or the Central Intelligence Agency had any pertinent information concerning Fay. (FBI HQ Serial 161-212-17 and -18 – 3.47MB PDF.)

That was very nearly the end of the Bureau’s interest in Fay… until June of 1961, when a taxi driver in San Francisco approached the FBI with some very salacious gossip:

The Bureau didn’t officially look into this, noting that no other information had been received corroborating this allegation, that Fay was married with several children, and was, well… connected:

…and that was that, as far as the Bureau was concerned. (FBI HQ Serial 161-212-20 – 590KB PDF.)

Would such an allegation have been treated differently, had Fay not been in “close affinity with the Presidential family”? Almost certainly. Was there any basis to the allegations? It’s impossible to say, of course. I know it adds a bit of fuel to some conspiracy theories, but let’s be honest, making that sort of oh-so-careful allegation was a pretty popular – and effective – form of character assassination back in the day (and even now, alas).

It’s fairly obvious that Fay became Undersecretary of the Navy purely through his relationship with Kennedy, and I have no doubt that Fay was both well aware of that and grateful for it. One can’t help but wonder, though, if he ever realized that his relationship with JFK helped deflect a potentially career-ending character assassination?

It’s good to be da King, as Mel Brooks so cornily pointed out. I’d say it’s arguably better to become a close friend of future Kings, myself, as you get to enjoy many of the benefits while experiencing few of the risks…

Published in: General, History | on January 15th, 2010| Comments Off on Paul Fay, Jr. (Friday FOIA Fun)

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.