I knew John F. Kennedy Jr., not intimately enough, but enough to say hello to on Martha's Vineyard. It was a place his mother loved very much and one he and his sister, Caroline, loved as well.

We have a charity auction on the island for Community Services, which includes day-care centers, visiting nurses, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, and other services to help people in need.

Ours is different from other auctions in that the items cannot be purchased anywhere--they are sold as dreams. We auction off a sailboat ride with Walter Cronkite, an extra part in a Mike Nichols movie, an evening at Lincoln Center with Beverly Sills, a tennis game with Mike Wallace, a walk across the bridge with David McCullough, and a luncheon with Kay Graham.

Three years ago, I called John Kennedy and asked him if we could auction him off.

He was reluctant but finally agreed to take four people on a bicycle trip around Gay Head near his home.

The ride sold for almost $12,500 and was one of the most popular of all the items.

A few weeks ago, I called John and asked him if he would be auctioned off for lunch at George magazine.

He hesitated and then said, "I'll be honest with you. I hate to be auctioned off. I feel part of a slave market." I said, "I understand." Realizing I had let him off the hook, he said, "Tom Hanks is on the island and he loves Martha's Vineyard."

He laughed, and I thanked him for the tip.

John, his wife and sister-in-law's tragic flight to Martha's Vineyard struck so many people in this country. It forced us to relive other Kennedy tragedies, particularly his father's assassination. Once again, a country went into mourning for a Kennedy.

Not only was John Kennedy Jr. very much part of our history, but he represented the type of person we wanted our sons to be.

When it was announced he had disappeared, those of us on the Vineyard received dozens of calls from friends around the country who felt or wanted to feel that we knew more than they did. We didn't. Our source of information was the TV, the same source they were tuned in to.

John Kennedy Jr. was not an astronaut, a war hero, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist or a professional athlete. Yet somehow we were connected. As with all the Kennedys, he was family.

{copy} 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate