As Irish American commentators on Friday focused on news that JFK’s Ulster-born driver had been an Orangeman, Bill Greer’s nephew said his uncle was far from anti-Catholic.
Special Agent Greer was born and raised in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone and his Orange Order background – as a committee member of Drumbonaway LOL 214 – was revealed for the first time in Friday’s News Letter.
Soon after publication, the influential website IrishCentral.com posted an article labelling the President’s driver a “secret member of the anti-Catholic” Order.
“Co Tyrone native William Greer has been cited in several conspiracy books for his alleged role and for not speeding away from the scene after the first shot,” it said.
“Now conspiracy theorists have a new angle given his anti-Catholic background. Some researchers have claimed anti-Catholic elements were behind Kennedy’s killing. As the first Catholic president he had aroused tremendous opposition from some extreme Protestant leaders,” it added.
The author went on to say Greer would have sworn to “strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome” as part of his lodge initiation.
However, Greer’s nephew Ken Torrens, 88, had a close bond with his uncle Bill and rejects suggestions he could have harboured anti-Catholic feelings.
“Every time I was talking to uncle Bill he said to me ‘can you lot not get away from that Catholic and Protestant thing you have over there? It’s disgusting. Why don’t you get a grip on yourselves?’ That’s what he said.”
Mr Torrens’ late mother Ellen was Bill Greer’s sister and the Torrens family made several visits to Greer’s home in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
The favour was returned in the late 1970s when the then retired Secret Service agent asked his nephew to take him back to Stewartstown to renew old acquaintances – almost 50 years since he emigrated to the US.
“I took him to the wee home where he was born,” Mr Torrens said.
“He asked me to take him to where his friend called Kirkpatrick lived and we drove down the lane. A big tractor was coming along and this guy was perched up on the top. He [Bill] said to me ‘I think that’s him. The man said to him ‘do I know you?’ and Bill said ‘you should do’.
“The man said ‘you’re not Billy Greer from America are you?’ and then the two of them danced around and around like a couple of idiots,” Mr Torrens recalled.
Not surprisingly, there was one question that was always going to crop up on a long drive with a Kennedy insider.
“When I asked him if they’d got the right man, Lee Harvey Oswald, he said to me, ‘no comment’.
“He said ‘you’re my nephew but I’m not allowed to talk about it. Maybe some day I’ll be able to tell you’.”