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AN AMERICAN DYNASTY
The Legacy of Joseph and Rosemary Kennedy
"What are you going to do with your life? Kennedys don’t just sit around. They do something."
Joseph Kennedy, question to each of his children
When three brothers all reach positions of influence and prominence in public life, it is only natural to consider the combined in.uence of heredity and upbringing. In the case of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy, these in.uences can be clearly traced to a strong and in.uential parental team. Joseph and Rosemary Kennedy, in separate ways, had a powerful, obvious, and profound impact on their children’s lives.
Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888–1969) was the grandson of an Irish immigrant and the son of a state legislator. Because his father had fought his way out of poverty to a position of some prominence, Joe was able to attend a good prep school (Boston Latin School) and won entrance to Harvard, from which he graduated in 1912.
Meanwhile, Rose Fitzgerald (1890–1995) was the eldest daughter of a prominent Boston politician, John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, who served a term in Congress and was twice mayor of Boston. Like her future husband she, too, was a second generation descendent of Irish immigrants who had come to the United States during the years of the potato famine.
After a long, per sis tent courtship, Joe overcame Honey Fitz’s misgivings— Rose’s father wasn’t entirely certain that the son of a small-time politician was good enough for the daughter of Boston’s most prominent Catholic family— and the pair married in 1914. Their .rst child, Joseph, or Joe Jr., was born in 1915, and by the time Edward, or Teddy, was born in 1932, he was the last of nine children— four sons and .ve daughters.
A FRUITFUL FAMILY TREE
The Children of Joseph and Rosemary Kennedy
Joseph Jr. (b. 1915) John (b. 1917) Rosemary (b. 1918) Kathleen (b. 1920) Eunice (b. 1921) Robert (b. 1925) Jean (b. 1928) Edward (b. 1932)
Both parents set strong examples for their children, and both were determined to escape the “second- class citizen” status reserved for Catholics in predominantly Protestant New En gland.
Joe was particularly driven to succeed in business, becoming a bank president by the time he was twenty-.ve years old. By thirty, he was a millionaire, involved with shipbuilding, moviemaking, and the Demo cratic Party. By 1929 he was wealthy enough to establish million- dollar trusts for each of his children and astute enough to avoid losing his shirt in the stockmarket crash and subsequent depression. President Franklin Delano Roo sevelt appointed him to be the .rst chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934. In 1937 Joe Kennedy became the .rst Irish American to serve as the United States ambassador to Great Britain.
At home, the Kennedy’s raised their children to be inquisitive, voracious readers and extremely competitive. The bar for achievement was set very high. Yet both parents also loved their children unconditionally. From Rose, the children learned the importance of compassion and empathy, while Joe made sure that each also was ready to work hard and strive for distinction in public life. Their family home, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, would serve as a refuge, a place of calm and serenity, throughout the family members’ lives.
From birth, Joe and Rose’s eldest son, Joe Jr., was groomed for the role of president of the United States, since both parents shared this vision of their son’s destiny. His death while .ying a volunteer combat mission during World War II was the .rst example of what would eventually be called the Kennedy tragedy, and it shifted the burden of expectations to his younger brothers’ shoulders.
Joe suffered a stroke in 1961 and was an invalid until he died in 1969. Rose would live to the age of 104, though during the last de cade of her life she was con.ned to a wheelchair. Her generous philanthropy continued late into her life, and at age 90 she led the grandparents’ parade in the Special Olympics. She is reputedly the longest- lived presidential relative in US history.
“Don’t hesitate to interrupt me, whether I am at a meeting, in conference, or visiting with friends, if you wish to consult me about my children.”
Joseph Kennedy, instruction to his children’s nurse, Alice
“A mother knows that hers is the in.uence which can make that little precious being to be a leader of men, an inspiration, a shining light in the world.”
“He has called on the best that was in us. There was no such thing as half-trying. Whether it was running a race or catching a football, competing in school—we were to try. And we were to try harder than anyone else.”
From the eulogy for Joseph Kennedy, written by Bobby
in 1967, delivered by Teddy in 1969
Excerpted From The Dream That Will Not Die.
Copyright © 2010 by Bill Fawcett & Associates.
Published in May 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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