About a week after President John F. Kennedy‘s sudden and shocking death in November of 1963, by the bullet of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, TIME chose this letter from a reader as the first to print in response to the news:

Kennedy was only 46 when he was killed, but he fit a lot of life into those few decades: scholar, writer, war hero, family man, celebrity and — of course — politician. And, though a greater number of years have now passed since his death than passed during his life, his legacy continues to be a major touchstone for American culture.

For the 100th anniversary of his May 29, 1917, birth, here’s a very, very brief look back at his life and the complicated century that he helped shape.

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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