That Presidential Family of Massachusetts
When JOHN F. KENNEDY became “leader of the free world” in 1961, he also became leader of America’s top political clan. The Kennedys have been called America’s “royal family” as JFK’s brothers, sisters, children, nieces and nephews took major roles in American public life. (As the 21st century began, some felt the Bush family had become still more popular.) Here are some of the most famous members of Clan Kennedy.
JOSEPH KENNEDY, SR. was a self-made millionaire and the family patriarch. He and his wife Rose had nine children between 1915-1932, including the future president and future U.S. senators Robert and Ted Kennedy. Joseph Kennedy remains a controversial figure; he was undeniably a ruthless businessman, and some claim he got rich running liquor during Prohibition. Nonetheless, Kennedy became America’s ambassador to Britain and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under president Franklin Roosevelt.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY was his brother’s campaign manager in the 1960 presidential race. He then served as Attorney General in the Kennedy administration. After JFK’s assassination, Bobby served briefly under Lyndon Johnson, then was elected senator from New York in 1964. He ran for president in 1968, only to be assassinated himself by Sirhan Sirhan after a primary victory in California.
EDWARD “TED” KENNEDY was the youngest of Joe Kennedy‘s nine children. He was only 30 when he became a U.S. senator from the Kennedy home state of Massachusetts in 1962. (For a brief period, from 1962-63, he was senator while his brother JFK was president and his brother RFK was U.S. Attorney General.) Ted Kennedy was still a stalwart Democrat in the Senate 47 years later, at his death in 2009. He ran for president in 1972 and 1980, but was hampered by a 1969 incident at Chappaquiddick Island near Martha’s Vineyard, when he left the scene of an accident in which a young former RFK aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed.
Edward’s youngest son, PATRICK KENNEDY, served in Congress alongside his father. Patrick became a representative from the state of Rhode Island in 1995, when he was only 27. According to his campaign biography, that made him “the youngest Kennedy family member ever to win office.” Patrick served eight terms in Congress, leaving in 2011.
JOSEPH KENNEDY JR. was the eldest of Joe Kennedy‘s children. Handsome and charismatic, Joe Jr. was widely assumed to be the future politician in the Kennedy family. He was attending Harvard Law School when World War II began; he enrolled in the Navy and became a bomber pilot. Joe Jr. didn’t survive the war: he was killed on a volunteer mission when his plane, loaded with volatile explosives meant for a German rocket base, exploded after takeoff. In 1946, the Kennedy family established in his memory the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, devoted to the problems of mental disability.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER took a special interest in the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, and in 1957 became its head. 11 years later she held in Chicago the first Special Olympics, an Olympic-style competition for those with mental disabilities. Shriver remained a public advocate for the intellectually disabled for the rest of her life. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 for her work. She died in August of 2009, just two weeks before the death of her brother Edward.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s interest in the disabled was sparked in part by the struggles of her own older sister, ROSEMARY KENNEDY. Rosemary was a slow learner as a child and may have been mentally impaired. A surgical lobotomy in 1941, intended to cure her of mood swings, instead left her distinctly impaired and unable to function normally. She was placed in a home in Wisconsin, where she lived until her death in 2005.
The third member of the clan to die in a plane crash was JOHN F. KENNEDY, JR.. The son of President Kennedy was killed in 1999 when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha’s Vineyard; it was dusk, the skies were hazy, and the crash was ultimately blamed on pilot error. Also killed were Kennedy’s wife, CAROLYN BESSETTE KENNEDY, and her sister Lauren Bessette.
JFK Jr.’s sister CAROLINE KENNEDY was only three when their father became president; she and her pony Macaroni became popular figures at the White House in the years before her father’s assassination. Caroline earned an undergraduate degree from Radcliffe College in 1979 and worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before attending Columbia Law School. She married businessman Edwin Schlossberg in 1986.
JACKIE KENNEDY ONASSIS married John F. Kennedy in 1953, when he was the junior senator from Massachusetts. They moved to the White House in 1961 and as First Lady she became a favorite of the public. Her elegance and personal style were widely admired; the Kennedy years in the White House are sometimes remembered as “Camelot.” She was riding in the convertible next to her husband when he was assassinated in 1963 in Dallas, and was a stoic figure of grief in the days that followed. She married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1968. He died in 1975, but as “Jackie O” she was closely watched by paparazzi and gossip columnists until her death in 1994. She is buried next to John Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery.
Another popular Kennedy wife was ETHEL KENNEDY, who married Robert Kennedy in 1950. Ethel was sometimes said to be a natural fit for the Kennedys, an energetic woman who matched her husband’s clan in athleticism and aggressiveness. Ethel and Robert’s home in McLean, Virginia, known as Hickory Hill, was a popular gathering place for family, friends and political allies. She and RFK produced 11 children in their 18 years of marriage (Robert was assassinated in 1968). Ethel also is the aunt of Michael Skakel, who in 2002 was tried for the 1975 murder of Martha Moxley in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Robert and Ethel’s son MICHAEL KENNEDY made tragic news when he was killed in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado in 1997. Kennedy had been tossing a football with relatives as he skiied; distracted, he ran into a tree and died of severe head injuries.
TV journalist MARIA SHRIVER is one of five children of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver. Maria Shriver broke from the family political tradition to become a television news reporter. (Though JFK had considered becoming a journalist early in his career.) From 1983 until 2004 Shriver was a network news correspondent, first for CBS and later for NBC. She was married to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger from 1986 to 2011, and was the First Lady of California from 2003 until 2011.
Action movie star ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER was a Kennedy in-law, married to Maria Shriver from 1986 to 2011. The match was politically unusual, as Schwarzenegger was a well-known Republican supporter who headed the National Council on Fitness in the administration of George Bush (the elder), while the Kennedys were, of course, loyal Democrats. In 2003 Schwarzenegger joined the family business by being elected governor of California (for details, see the loopThat’s Governtainment!). Schwarzenegger served two terms as governor, leaving office in 2011.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was not the first actor to marry a Kennedy. PETER LAWFORD played the role of famous in-law during the 1960s. A suave leading man, Lawford was part of Frank Sinatra‘s famous “Rat Pack.” He married John Kennedy‘s sister Patricia in 1954 and lent his star power to various Kennedy campaigns. Lawford and Patricia Kennedy were divorced in 1966.