When I think of the Kennedys of Massachusetts, I think of their long legacy of strength and faith, love of family, and commitment to helping others less fortunate. The Kennedys are the products of two amazing Irish families, the Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds.
Thomas Fitzgerald and Patrick Kennedy both migrated to Boston from Wexford County in Ireland during the potato famine of 1840. Fitzgerald married Rose Mary Murray, whose family had also migrated to Boston from Wexford County. Kennedy married Bridget Murphy. The survival of these ancestors in the new land meant endless hours of backbreaking labor, poverty, tenements, and early death. The Fitzgeralds both died in their thirties, leaving behind nine children and little money. Kennedy died at the age of thirty-five and left behind his wife and four children.
John F "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the third born, had to leave Harvard Medical School, where he had been given a scholarship, in order to help care for his brothers and sisters. He and the family survived and he soon entered ward politics. By 1895 he had run successfully for Congress, and after serving two terms, became mayor of Boston in 1906.
Patrick J "PJ" Kennedy, the youngest of the four Kennedy children, didn't have the same opportunities Fitzgerald did. He helped his mother in the store she managed, worked around the waterfront, and later became a stevedore. He never finished grade school. But Kennedy had a head for business. He opened a neighborhood bar on his scrimped savings, built his business into an "empire" of neighborhood saloons, entered the coal business later on, followed by wholesale liquor, and finally banking.
Fitzgerald married Mary Hannon, and they had six children, the first born being Rose Fitzgerald. Kennedy married Mary Hickey, and they had two children, Johanna and Joseph P "Joe" Kennedy. "PJ" was a strikingly handsome man, whose features appear to have been passed down to his descendents.
The Fitzgerald and the Kennedy children grew up together, and Rose and "Joe" were schoolmates. "Joe" became smitten with Rose, but with Rose being reluctant to leave the hearth, the two would have a long courtship. They would "go steady" for 7 years.
"Joe" and Rose married in 1914, and began building the Kennedy dynasty. Their first two sons were born in quick succession, Joseph P Kennedy Jr and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Some time later Rosemary, Kathleen "Kick" and Eunice came along, followed by daughter Pat, Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, Jean, and Theodore "Teddy" Kennedy.
The Kennedy family grew up financially secure due to the good business sense of the senior Joe. He became a legendary speculator on the wildest stock market in history, that of the 1920s, but came out unscathed following the crash of 1929, still selling long afterward. He was able to set up a Million Dollar Trust Fund for each of his children. He served as a business consultant for many major corporations, saving many from financial collapse, one of which was John Hertz's Yellow Cab Company. He bought a chain of New England movie theaters, got into movie production, and eventually moved into real estate in the 1930s. He acquired a mass of property in Boston as well as Hyannis Port, which became the family's Summer retreat. In 1937 he was appointed the first Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Of all the Kennedy children, the one who was the strongest scholastically was John. He graduated from Choate High School in 1935, voted "most likely to succeed," although he didn't have any career plans at that time. He travelled throughout Europe extensively before entering Harvard in 1936. He graduated cum laude in 1940 with his magna cum laude degree in political science. But before he would begin his political career, the military would be calling him and his older brother Joe Jr.
Both Joe Jr and John entered the Navy. Joe became a pilot, and John took to the sea. In August 1943 John led his crew in the Solomon Islands on his torpedo boat, PT 109, where he looked death in the face in a battle against the Japanese and was ultimately highly honored. Despite the PT 109 having been sunk, John saved his entire crew. Not bad for a guy who had to fight his way into the Navy because of an old back injury from football.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Joe Jr was leading strikes against the German Army on the coast of France when his plane was shot and exploded on August 12, 1944. This was the first of the many untimely Kennedy deaths to come. His body was never recovered. He never knew that his younger sister Rosemary had been institutionalized just four months before.
On May 30, 1946 John was discharged from the Navy and it was on Bunker Hill Day, June 17, he decided to run for the 11th District seat in the House of Representatives. He won the seat handily. He had assumed the mantle of his older brother Joe, who was supposed to be the politician in the family. He was on his way to fulfill the promise of his name.
In 1948 sister Kathleen died in a plane crash, the second tragic death of the Kennedy children.
In 1952 John decided to run for the Senate seat that had been held by Henry Cabot Lodge since 1936. Kennedy defeated Lodge by 70,737 votes. It was also in 1952 that John met Jacqueline Lee Bouvier when she was photographing him for the newspaper she worked for, the Washington Times-Herald. They began dating, but the courtship was anything but an easy one. Soon after their romance began, she left for Europe, and was gone for 6 months. When she returned, their courtship resumed, but John was spending half his time in Massachusetts. Somehow, though, they managed to become engaged in June 1953, and married on September 12, 1953 (which just happens to be my birthday :). They were indeed a handsome couple.
The marriage was to be marred with pain and tragedy. In October 1954 Senator Kennedy underwent a lumbar spine operation, which was a failure. Infection set in, and he was not expected to live. Last rites were administered. But he survived, and in 1955 submitted himself to a second operation despite the high risk involved. The second operation was a success, and his recovery was lengthy and painful. He used the time to write his second book (his first being "PT-109"), "Profiles In Courage," with the help of his wife and Theodore "Ted" Sorensen, the work which won him the Pulitzer Prize. He dedicated the book to his wife, and it would be a source of pride to his future children.
On August 23, 1956 John and Jackie's first child, a girl, was stillborn. But in November of 1957 Jackie gave birth to a healthy girl, Caroline. Life was once again beginning to look promising.
On January 2, 1960 John Fitzgerald Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. And America's love affair with the Kennedys was launched. It was time for a new generation of leadership. The Kennedys began their campaign trail, and the names John, Jackie and Caroline became household names. A new grace had embraced politics, and our future was changed forever.
On Thursday, July 14, 1960, John won the democratic nomination for President of the United States. He chose Lyndon Baines Johnson as his running mate, and delivered his acceptance speech on July 15. On Tuesday, November 8, 1960, John won the election.
On November 25, 1960, Jackie gave birth to the Kennedy's first son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. He was to become America's First Son, and the light in big sister Caroline's eyes.
On January 19, 1961 the Kennedys' Inaugural Ball was held, at which Frank Sinatra sang John's favorite tune, "Camelot."
Words and Music by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
A law was made a distant moon ago here,
July and August cannot be too hot;
And there's a legal limit to the snow here
The Winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order Summer lingers through September
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight the morning fog must disappear
In short there's simply not
A more congenial spot...
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot...
That's how conditions are.
On January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was sworn into office by Chief Justice Earl Warren, with his left hand placed on the Kennedy Family Bible as he took his oath. The birth of Camelot had taken place. Life was good.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy with father Joseph Patrick Kennedy
America fell in love with the Kennedys. Brother Bobby, following a senatorial position, became the US Attorney General. Youngest brother Teddy became Senator of Massachusetts. The First Family was growing, and the world took a little boy, "John-John," to our hearts as our own.
The year 1963 would mark another year of tragedy for the Kennedy family. The fourth baby, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, born prematurely, died two days after his birth. And Friday, November 22, 1963 would be a date forever burned into history. Everyone who was alive at that time, and old enough to be aware of current events, remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination. Those were the shots heard and felt around the world. Jackie had lost her husband, Caroline and John-John had lost their father, and we had lost the leader of the free world.
John-John saluting the passing casket of his father
Jackie was instrumental in helping her family and the world to heal from the tragic loss of John Kennedy Sr. She proceeded to raise her children and to provide them with as much normalcy as possible. Still, they continued to be in the public eye, and it was the hope of all that the children would be able to grow up unaffected by the loss of their father. Jackie fulfilled her commitment to her children very well, with the help of family.
John-John with Uncle Bobby
On Tuesday, June 4, 1968, Bobby Kennedy was felled by the bullet of assassin Sirhan-Sirhan in Los Angeles, California. He died in the early morning hours of June 5. Yet another Kennedy tragedy and yet another shock felt around the world.
Caroline and John developed into free spirits, and was urged by their mother to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and find their own way. Jackie saw to it that they received as much privacy as possible. Caroline did a little lobbying for causes important to her, but had no real interest in politics as a career. She went into the field of law. John Jr later entered law school, and passed the bar after failing it the first time. He practiced law for a short time, and although Caroline felt he was a good attorney, he lost interest in the profession.
While John Jr was still finding his way, Carolyn Bissett, whom he was to meet later, was gaining a name with Calvin Klein in New York. They met in Central Park in 1992 and again later at Calvin Klein, and began dating in 1993. John had dated a number of ladies, but none pleased Jackie. She was pleased with Carolyn, however. As John and Carolyn began their relationship, they were afforded anonymity. Only very close friends and family knew of their relationship.
On May 20, 1994 John and Caroline lost their mother after her long fight against cancer. It was during this time that the world truly saw the grace in the two children, particularly John. It was with grace he announced the death of his mother to the media, it was with grace he delivered her eulogy, and it was with grace, he laid her to rest.
John found a new vocation in journalism. With his own investment, and those of two associates, he founded "George" magazine, a political publication, with the hopes that it would help bolster the interest of more young people in the field of politics. Although there were no serious commitments on John's part concerning a possible future in politics for himself, he never admitted to the impossibility. There was still hope for us that he might one day renew Camelot.
The relationship of John and Carolyn began gaining public interest in early 1996. They were beginning to become more visible in public.
In June 1996 John and Carolyn announced their engagement, to the thrill of their families and friends. On September 21, 1996, they pulled off the most perfect private wedding imagineable, in the tiny First African Baptist Church on Cumberland Island off the Georgia Coast. It was simple yet elegant, romantic, religious, and meaningful. No doubt, Jackie was smiling down on the couple from Heaven.
John and Carolyn had a magical marriage. They were deeply in love. He was effective in protecting her from the publicity, and they were very happy. John continued working on his magazine, and the couple enjoyed a private life in New York, making occasional public appearances. John began to make public appearances on television talk shows and an occasional sitcom, mainly to promote "George." The world waited for a Kennedy heir, and watched John mature into an impressive man of elegance, grace, and class.
Just as those of us who remember the devastation of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Sr, and Bobby Kennedy, and recall as vividly where we were and what we were doing when we learned of their deaths, we will too recall how and when we first learned of the tragic deaths of John Jr, Carolyn, and her sister Lauren. With their deaths go our hopes for perhaps a new era of Kennedys leading our nation.... a renewal of Camelot.
We that loved him so, followed him, honored him,
lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
made him our pattern to live and to die.
Robert Browning, "The Lost Leader"
The dignity and grace by which the Kennedy family has dealt with yet another tragedy is, as it always has been, an inspiration to all the world. The strength, faith and stamina that was instilled in the bloodline so many generations ago still live. They are the qualities which have sustained them in their incredible losses.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out
so that you can stand up under it.
I Corinthians 10:13
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy passed away at the age of 104. She had endured the loss of 3 sons, 1 daughter, the institutionalization of another, and the loss of her husband. In her eulogy delivered by last remaining son, Teddy, he recited the scripture she held closely to her heart.
I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith.
II Timothy 4:7
This nation, and the world, has lost yet another son, daughter-in-law, and sister, all too soon. We will always wonder, as we did with John Sr and Bobby, what might have been. Let us cling to the faith of the Kennedys which tells us that John Jr, Carolyn and Lauren are in Heaven with those they loved here on Earth. May they rest in peace and love for all eternity.
I received an e-mail containing the following poem. I do not know the author, or I would give full credit and ask permission to use it. But I find it endearing, and it conveys my thoughts about John.
John Jr walked through the pearly gates.
Saint Peter as his guide,
Stopped and pointed to a cloud,
Where, seated side by side
Were Jack and Jackie laughing,
Sipping something crystal clear
While just a few short feet away
Little Patrick tottered near.
On a cloud right next to theirs
Were Bobby, Michael, Joe,
And all the lost young Kennedys
Taken so long ago.
They played touch football with Angels
But weren't gonna win.
The Kennedys could throw a ball
But Angels danced on pins.
John looked up, surprised, and said,
"John John, why are you here?
"Don't call me that," his son replied,
"That's not been heard for years."
"Sorry, son, but last we met
"Seems just a flash ago.
"I remember that salute.
"You put on quite a show."
"Well, Jack," murmured Jackie,
"Now our boy's become a man."
"Yes, I know," Jack fast replied,
"But I thought he had plans
"To have some kids and maybe later
"Run for president.
"You weren't going to be here till
"That time all came and went."
"Well, I could say the same for you,"
Said John with a sad sigh.
"The fact is that I crashed my plane.
"Thought I knew how to fly.
"We had some fog and I guess
"That I kind of lost my way."
"No, you didn't," Jack replied.
"That's why you're here today."
One last look
"Amazing Grace" was one of the songs John Jr and Carolyn requested for their wedding.