- Category : 1918-births
- Type : PSE
- Profile : 4/1 - Opportunistic / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : JX Innocence
American political figure and longtime top aide to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Jenkins' career ended after a sex scandal was reported weeks before the 1964 presidential election, when Jenkins was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct with another man in a public restroom in Washington, D. C.
Jenkins spent his childhood in Wichita Falls, Texas. There he spent two years at the University of Texas, though he did not earn a degree. In 1945, following his discharge from the Army, he converted to Roman Catholicism and married Helen Marjorie Whitehill. They had six children, four boys and two girls. They separated in the early 1970s but never divorced. She died in 1987.
Jenkins began working for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1939 when Johnson was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives as the member from Texas's 10th congressional district. For most of the next 25 years, Jenkins served as Johnson's top administrative assistant, following Johnson as he rose to become a Senator, Vice President under John F. Kennedy, and President.
From 1941 until 1945, Jenkins served in the United States Army during World War II.
By the 1960s, Jenkins was more Johnson's friend than employee, close to Lady Bird Johnson and involved in their family finances as well. The Johnsons celebrated Mrs. Johnson's fifty-first birthday at a party at Jenkins' home in December 1963.
A month before the 1964 presidential election, on 7 October, District of Columbia Police arrested Jenkins in a YMCA restroom. He and another man were booked on a disorderly conduct charge, an incident described as "perhaps the most famous tearoom arrest in America." He paid a $50 fine. Rumors of the incident circulated for several days and Republican Party operatives helped to promote it to the press. Some newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Cincinnati Enquirer, refused to run the story. Journalists quickly learned that Jenkins had been arrested on a similar charge in 1959, which made it much harder to explain away as the result of overwork.
Anticipating the charge that Jenkins might have been blackmailed, Johnson immediately ordered an FBI investigation. He knew that J. Edgar Hoover would have to clear the administration of any security problem because the FBI itself would otherwise be at fault for failing to investigate Jenkins properly years before. Hoover reported on October 22 that security had not been compromised. Johnson immediately ordered a poll to determine the public's reaction to the affair and learned the next day that its effect on the voters was negligible.
The President announced that only he would contact the press about the incident, but his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, issued her own statement of support for Jenkins.
The incident embarrassed the administration but had little impact on the campaign in which Johnson led his opponent by large margins. Jenkins' arrest was quickly overshadowed by international affairs: Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was deposed on October 14, the British electorate voted Labour into power on October 15, and China successfully tested a nuclear weapon on October 16.
The campaign offices of Johnson's Republican opponent in the 1964 presidential election, Barry Goldwater, distributed bumper stickers and buttons bearing slogans such as, "LBJ - LIGHT BULB JENKINS: NO WONDER HE TURNED THE LIGHTS OUT" and "ALL THE WAY WITH LBJ, BUT DON'T GO NEAR THE YMCA".
On 17 November, Lady Bird visited Walter Jenkins and his wife Marjorie, who were preparing to move home to Texas. She reported in her diary that he had received "a barrage of mail" from acquaintances and the public that "seems so understanding." Washington columnist Joseph Alsop, like Jenkins a closeted homosexual, wrote publicly in support of Jenkins and sent him a letter of support as well.
Johnson did not replace Jenkins, but instead divided his responsibilities among several staff members.
Jenkins resigned from the Air Force Reserve in February 1965.
After leaving Washington, Jenkins lived the rest of his life in Austin, Texas, where he worked as a Certified Public Accountant and management consultant and ran a construction company. He died on 23 November 1985, at the age of 67, a few months after suffering a stroke.
A made-for-television film, "Vanished," loosely based on the Jenkins resignation, aired in 1971.
The Tony-award winning play "All the Way" depicts the 1964 scandal involving Jenkins.