The Kennedy Legacy

Not just politics as usual

Joseph P. Kennedy II


September 24, 1952

”One of Bobby’s first acts after his brother’s assassination was to write a letter to his eldest son, reminding eleven-year old Joseph Patrick Kennedy, II of the obligations of his name: ”You are the oldest of all the male grandchildren,” he wrote. ”You have a special and particular responsibility now which I know you will fulfill. Remember all the things that Jack started - be kind to others that are less fortunate than we - and love our country.”

Kennedy was born in 
Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, to Robert Francis Kennedy and Ethel Skakel, the second of their eleven children. He was named after his grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the patriarch of the Kennedy family. He had a troubled youth, and was expelled from several private schools as a result of his quick temper. He regularly got into fights with his younger brothers and male cousins. A restless, impulsive teenager, he left the Milton Academy, a private, college preparatory school, in Milton, Massachusetts, before graduating from the Manter Hall School—also a private, college-preparatory school—in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1971.

Kennedy attended the University of California, Berkeley in BerkeleyCalifornia, during 1972, but dropped out. After this he worked for several months as part of a federally funded program to combat and treat tuberculosis in the African American community in San Francisco, California.[5] San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto personally praised Kennedy’s work in the community. Kennedy resigned from his position in the program, and returned to Massachusetts in the summer of 1973.

On February 22, 1972, Kennedy was on Lufthansa Flight 649 when it was hijacked. Shortly after the inflight movie began during the 747’s flight from New Delhi to Athens, five gunmen seized the jet and forced it to land at Aden International Airport, where all hostages were released on the following day.

In August 1973, a Jeep he was driving overturned, fracturing one of his brother David Kennedy's vertebrae, and permanently paralyzing David’s girlfriend, Pam Kelley. The police cited Kennedy with reckless driving and the judge temporarily suspended his driver’s license. The Kennedy family paid for Kelley’s initial medical treatment and her continued care during the years following the accident.

Kennedy returned to school after the accident, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1976.

In 1979, Kennedy founded Citizens Energy, a non-profit organization, to provide discounted heating oil to low-income families.

U.S. House of Representatives (1986–1999)


In 1986, incumbent Democrat and Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., who had held 8th Congressional district seat since 1953, announced his retirement. Kennedy decided to run for the seat, which his uncle, former President John F. Kennedy, had held from 1947 to 1953. The Democratic nomination was contested by a number of well-known Democrats including State Senator George Bachrach and State Representative Mel King. However, Kennedy garnered endorsements from The Boston Globe and the retiring O’Neill. Kennedy won the primary with 53%.He won the general election with 72% of the vote. He won re-election in 1988 (80%), 1990 (72%), 1992 (83%), 1994 (99%), and 1996 (84%).

On February 3, 1979, Kennedy married Sheila Brewster Rauch (born March 22, 1949), daughter of Rudolph Stewart Rauch and Frances Stuart Brewster. The couple had twin sons, Matthew and Joe, (born October 4, 1980) and were legally divorced in 1991.

In 1993, Kennedy asked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for an annulment of the marriage on the grounds of “lack of due discretion of judgment”, meaning that he was mentally incapable of entering into marriage at the time of his wedding. An annulment would give the marriage the status of never having existed, and allow Kennedy to marry Anne Elizabeth “Beth” Kelly—his former staff member—in a Roman Catholic ceremony, as well as allow him to participate in other sacraments of the church, such as Holy Communion, not available to a divorced person who remarries. Rauch refused to agree to the annulment, and Kennedy married Kelly (born April 3, 1957) in a non-Catholic civil ceremony on October 23, 1993.

The Boston Archdiocese initially granted Kennedy the annulment, which was discovered by Rauch only after the decision in 1996. Rauch, who is an Episcopalian, wrote a book Shattered Faith: A Woman’s Struggle to Stop the Catholic Church from Annulling Her Marriage, explaining that she was opposed to the concept of annulment because it meant in Roman Catholic theology that the marriage had never actually existed, and claiming that the Kennedy family influence made it possible to unilaterally “cancel” a twelve-year marriage. A tribunal decision in favor of annulment is automatically appealed, and the decision is not effective until a second, conforming, sentence is granted. Instead of allowing the appeal to take place in the United States, Rauch appealed directly to the Holy See.

The original decision was overturned by the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church, the Roman Rota, in 2005. Rauch was informed of the decision by the Boston Archdiocese in 2007. As the first decision was never confirmed, there was no time at which the Church declared the marriage to be null or gave Kennedy permission to remarry. Because the Rota was sitting as a second-instance appellate court, Kennedy could appeal the decision to another Rotal panel.