The Kennedy Legacy

Not just politics as usual

Carolyn Bessette Kennedy



CAROLYN JEANNE BESSETTE KENNEDY

January 7, 1966 - July 16, 1999

”With her dazzling blond head set firmly on her elegant shoulders, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy confronted a ravenous spotlight—and the inevitable comparisons to Jackie—from the moment she stepped out of that tiny Cumberland Island chapel at John Kennedy’s side. But to those around her, she showed a face of laughter, a wealth of tenderness, and a profound commitment to her husband, friends, and family during her brief but spirited life.”

Born in White Plains, New York, and voted “Ultimate Beautiful Person” of her high school class of 1983, Bessette grew up in a wealthy corner of Connecticut just outside of New York City with twin sisters, Lisa and Lauren, just one year older. She moved to Connecticut with her mother and sisters at age 8 when her parents divorced. Her mother, a school administrator, remarried to a prominent doctor.

After Catholic high school, Bessette earned an undergraduate degree in education at Boston University. (She was the cover girl for the “Girls of BU” 1988 calendar.) Her first job after college was in public relations for a nightclub company in New England. She went to work at Calvin Klein’s store in Boston and then transferred to the company’s New York location.

Six feet tall with long blonde hair, Bessette was linked with an assortment of men before Kennedy, including a Calvin Klein model, a pro hockey player, and the heir to the Benetton fashion company fortune. She first met and spoke with Kennedy when both were running in Central Park and impressed him with her beauty, intelligence, and sincerity. Their fairy-tale marriage in 1996 took place in a 100-year-old, flower strewn chapel on a secluded island off the Georgian coast.

After her marriage to “John-John” as her husband is often affectionately called, Bessette was the focus of much media attention. Declared a trendsetter by the national press, she was often compared to her late mother-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, because of her fierce protection of her own (and Kennedy’s) privacy, as well as her work for charitable causes.

Bessette and Kennedy, along with her sister Lauren, were killed when their small private plane, piloted by Kennedy, crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on July 16, 1999. Nearly two years later, Carolyn and Lauren Bessette’s parents received a monetary settlement as a result of their wrongful death lawsuit against the Kennedy estate.