The Camelot years.
The Camelot years.
A deep, black grief gripped Robert Kennedy in the months following his brother’s assassination. He lost weight, fell into melancholy silences, wore his brother’s clothes, smoked the cigars his brother had liked, and imitated his mannerisms. Eventually his grief went underground, but it sometimes erupted in geysers of tears, as had happened in the Philippines. He wept after seeing a photograph of his late brother in the office of a former aide, wept when asked to comment on the Warren Commission Report, and wept after eulogizing J.F.K. at the 1964 Democratic convention with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”
The Last Good Campaign by Thurston Clarke | Vanity Fair, June 2008
By Fergal Keane
“IN HIS novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the American writer Thornton Wilder reflects on the lives of a group of people who are hurled to their deaths when the bridge they are crossing collapses. The deaths are so sudden, violent, arbitrary. What sense can one make of such a swift and pitiless end? In two beautiful sentences, Wilder offers a consoling vision: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead; and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” The bridge is love.
I was thinking of Wilder’s words last weekend as the coastguards and navy were searching the waters off Martha’s Vineyard for John F Kennedy Junior, his wife Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette. I heard the news that the plane was missing as I was lying in bed fighting a summer flu. I could not get up to watch the news, and so in a darkened room I listened to the radio broadcasts as they became more and more ominous. And then came the confirmation: the three were dead. Young and beautiful and dead.
The news reports focused on yet another dead Kennedy. That was to be expected. The lost son of the lost leader. The cursed First Family. All truths are no less true for being cliches. I listened to it all with a sense of dread. Waiting for the name of the Bessette sister who had disappeared with John and Carolyn.
I could not grieve for John Kennedy. Certainly I felt sorry for the loss of a young life, and for his family. But I did not know him and I have always regarded grief expended on distant figures as somewhat counterfeit. When a Diana dies is it not ourselves, our private losses and agonies that we weep for, rather than the ostensible object of our grief? But somebody I knew and liked, one of the most vibrant women I’ve ever met, died on that plane with John Kennedy. And it is the life of Lauren Bessette that I want to remember this Saturday morning.
You will not have learnt much about her from the newspapers or television. She was the least-known of the dead, a high-flying financier who was said to be romantically involved with another one of the Kennedy clan, Bobby Shriver. That was how her life was edited down for public consumption. But Lauren was bigger than that, by a long shot. She reminded me of the lines in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities where he is describing the bodyguard employed by a wily lawyer in Manhattan. Wolfe describes his man as being “less a human being, than a force of nature”.
Lauren certainly didn’t look like a bodyguard – more a catwalk model – but she never met you with anything less than the full force of her personality. And that was very powerful indeed. Her physical appearance was striking. Tall and statuesque, with long brown hair, she always surged rather than strolled; she was always the figure in the room who demanded the closest attention. I first met her through my friend Thea Guest, who is in New York helping to console Lauren’s family in their days of darkness.
Thea was the BBC producer in Asia when I arrived there from Africa in 1994. One of our first trips together was a fruitless month spent waiting for the death of Deng Xiaoping in Peking.
It was February and bitterly cold, with biting, sand-gritted winds blowing down on to the city from the Gobi Desert. As the days yawned into weeks, our boredom deepened. After a fortnight I was champing at the bit to go home. The Paramount Leader looked nowhere near death. But London insisted that we stay. And then one day Thea announced that a friend of hers was coming up for the weekend. “Lauren will liven this place up,” she announced.
The following Friday morning I knocked on Thea’s bedroom door, to be greeted by a tall figure in a white bathrobe, combing the water out of her newly washed hair. She bore an expression of exaggerated nonchalance.
“I guess you’re Fergal. Thea says you’re all right. Come on in,” said the figure. I think she made a point of not introducing herself, just to test my reaction. I just smiled and said, “You must be Lauren.”
The first few hours with Lauren were pretty stilted; we were each trying to get a sense of the other. I have to admit, I was pretty intimidated by her. This woman takes no prisoners, I thought. Our relationship might have remained in that formal no man’s land, had Thea not managed to slip down the stairs of a restaurant that night. By morning her ankle had ballooned and, armed with Lauren’s fluent Mandarin Chinese, we set off for for the foreigners’ wing of a local hospital. Grim, foreboding, bureaucratic, the hospital promised a grim experience.
But I had reckoned without Lauren Bessette. Boy, this lady could make things happen. Within minutes of our arrival she had dragooned what seemed like the entire medical team to examine Thea’s ankle. Not long after that we were ushered respectfully into the plastering-room, where a large cast was moulded around the ankle. Lauren kept chatting to the doctors in Chinese, respectful and grateful now. Outside in the corridor, Thea took one look at her plastered ankle and collapsed. Lauren and I took an arm each and, laughing like children, hauled her down to the waiting taxi. That was Peking, early spring 1995.
I went to the antiques market with her and admired her bargaining skills. She was tough but never patronising in her dealings with the Chinese furniture-sellers. After Peking, I met Lauren several times in Thea’s company. We all lived in Hong Kong in the age of money. This was before the Asian financial crash and Lauren and her colleagues in the banking sector were riding high. In truth, Lauren deserved everything she earned. The woman worked so hard, travelled so far and long. She was very driven. I may be completely wrong, but I always sensed a loneliness in Lauren. The tough exterior, the power-woman who excelled in the witty verbal put-down, was covering up a much more vulnerable person. It never did cover up the decency or the sweetness, though.
Lauren and I had many battles about the attitude of Asian governments to human rights. She was a pragmatist, and believed that human rights would come with economic prosperity. I didn’t believe they were things people should be forced to wait for. But Lauren was always sincere, and she had the gift of a formidable intellect. It was a pleasure to argue with her.
Once, I brought her round to my way of thinking. It was Thea’s farewell to Hong Kong party, and we all ended up in a bar. At two in the morning, after another human rights argument, I ended up telling Lauren about the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, who died in Siberia after being banished to the camps by Stalin. I quoted some lines from his wife Nadia’s last letter to him in which she asks, with terrible, simple urgency: “Where are you?”
Lauren borrowed the book from which I had quoted. For two years she held on to it, and then sent it back via Thea. We were all living different lives by then. Thea and I were back in London, and Lauren had moved to New York – where one day last week she headed for an airport in New Jersey, to take a fateful flight with her sister and brother-in-law.
The bridge, as Thornton Wilder said, is love. The only survival, the only meaning.”
The writer is a BBC special correspondent
“Olivia had fallen asleep in his arms,” recalls Sasha of this shot taken on a Hyannis Port boat ride in 1998. “The water got rough, and she just reached out to John. He was so proud. I think that seeing us with our children made him think, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I used to say to him, ‘Why do little kids follow you? Is it because you’re handsome and a Kennedy?’ The beauty is that kids are blind to all that. That’s the expression you see there. He appreciated that.” (Photo courtesy Sasha Chermayeff)
Smathers remembers his pal being “deeply preoccupied by death,” talking endlessly on a Florida fishing trip about the best ways to die. He remembered Kennedy deciding it had to be drowning, “but only if you lost consciousness.”
“Quick”—that was the key. “The point is, you’ve got to live each day like it’s your last day on earth,” he recalled Jack telling him. ‘That’s what I’m doing.” Ted Reardon recalled a similar conversation on the way home from Capitol Hill one late afternoon in Jack’s convertible. “It was a bright, shining, day. We had the top down. Out of the blue he said, ‘What do you think is the best way of dying?’” A new friend, the newspaper columnist and Georgetown mandarin Joseph Alsop, recalled Jack’s bluntness when it came to his short-range outlook. “Unless I’m very mistaken, he said that as a matter of fact, he had a kind of slow-acting—very slow-acting—leukemia and that he did not expect to live more than ten years or so, but there was no use thinking about it and he was going to do the best he could and enjoy himself as much as he could in the time that was given to him.”
—Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews
WASHINGTON – US Representative Joseph Kennedy III, a freshman Democrat from Massachusetts, has launched a leadership political action committee called “4MAPAC,” a signal of his intention to use the Kennedy name to build a political base through fundraising.
Kennedy registered the PAC with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. A Kennedy aide said the PAC will allow Kennedy to raise greater amounts of money and contribute to the races of fellow members and others moving forward, particularly critical as Democrats strategize to win back the House in 2014.
Individuals can give up to $5,000 a year to a leadership PAC, whereas individual contributions to a candidate is limited to $2,600 per election.
Leadership PACs were traditionally established by members in party leadership positions or those with such ambitions but have become more common as the amount of money poured into US election campaigns has exploded.
Money given to leadership PACs can only be spent on other candidates, donated to a party’s congressional campaign committee, or on a member’s travels to fundraisers on behalf of other candidates, said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at University of North Carolina Charlotte and co-author of “Congressional Parties, Institutional Ambition, and the Financing of Majority Control.”
With money comes power, and there’s the expectation of a “quid pro quo in the future when it comes to leadership position votes or bill votes,” Heberlig said, speaking about leadership PACs in general.
Kennedy, the grandson of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the son of former US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, and great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy, has proven to be a prolific fundraiser, having raised $4.2 million in the last election cycle. His campaign has about $300,000 cash on hand as of the end of 2012. First quarter reports are due Monday.
Kennedy won the seat formerly held by Barney Frank, and sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
His staff downplayed the significance of the PAC, a fundraising arm many other members of Congress have also established. Among the Massachusetts delegation with leadership PACs: James McGovern, Michael Capuano, John Tierney, and Richard Neal.
“Like many of his colleagues, Congressman Kennedy wants to support causes and candidates that he believes in,” said Emily Browne, Kennedy’s spokeswoman.
Caroline Kennedy shares her book, “Poems to Learn by Heart.”
The JFK Library staff is assessing the damage caused by yesterday’s fire. There was water penetration in a few artifact storage rooms, but damage to the collection is minimal and staff worked overnight to stabilize those areas.
There is significant water and other fire protection damage in other parts of the building. Boston Police continue to investigate the cause of the fire. The Library will be closed until further notice, as we continue to assess and mitigate the situation.
We feel fortunate that no one was hurt and appreciate everyone’s efforts to provide for the safety of our staff, our visitors, and our collections.
The damage to our building is real, but insignificant when compared to the lives lost in the bombings downtown. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families.
Fun-loving, crazy Ethel :)
To the most graceful, compassionate and fun-loving 85-year-old I know… happy birthday Grandma!
She’ll always be daddy’s little girl :)
Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy III (1984) is the oldest son of Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Emily Black and spends most of his days as a film producer in Italy.
John F. Kennedy Jr. at the 7th Annual Robert F. Kennedy Pro-Celebrity Tennis Tournament (8/26/78, Flushing Meadows Park, New York City).
(Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage Getty Images)
John F. Kennedy Jr. and girlfriend Daryl Hannah (left, with head down) watch game between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden. (circa 1993; New York Daily News Archive | New York Daily News | Getty Images)