Former US Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith was born on this day, February 20, 1928. Today she celebrates her 91st birthday!
Jean Kennedy Smith, the last living sibling of John F. Kennedy, shares stories of her family in her memoir “The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy.”
Not surprisingly it is remarkably honest, with anecdotes and stories that reflect both ways on the family.
What Kennedy Smith reveals is a family like any other behind closed doors, squabbles, rivalries but always loving.
Then not every writer can tell the story about the future pope visiting the Kennedy home and a plaque on the coach was placed there to mark the spot where his bottom met the cotton.
She does not shirk what happened to her sister Rose whose mental illness was greatly increased by a savage lobotomy ordered up by the parents.
They would need that love given the tragedies that befell them.
Death and illness seemed to stalk the Kennedy family's beginning with the oldest son Joe Junior and it never let up.
Their hectic lives and tragic deaths at the height of their powers reminds one of the lines of that great New England poet Emily Dickinson.
"Because I could not stop for death
He kindly stopped for me.."
Those sad moments did not kill the family legacy of onwards and upwards no matter the challenge Jean tells her tale.
When she was Ambassador to Ireland she played a pivotal role in the peace process, a role not widely acknowledged. Her directness and lack of fear in challenging the bureaucrats, especially in her own State Department at key moments such as granting the Adams visa was critical.
Indeed, Teddy her brother was heard to remark that she "was the best politician in the family, which given the opposition was formidable indeed."
Kennedy Smith was the second youngest of the nine Kennedy siblings. Most of her book focuses on the period between the 1920s through the 1940s when the wealthy and political family were well-known but had not yet evolved into the prominent superstars they would come to be in the 1960s, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The Kennedy parents, Jean writes in her dedication, "were always there for us, through the good times and bad."
She writes in the book: “At the helm were Mother and Dad. They were our leaders, teachers and champions ….and into life, we marched.”
Joseph P. Kennedy Sr and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy married in 1914. The couple started their family in Brookline, Massachusettes, where four children were born before they moved the family to Bronxville, New York.
Joseph Kennedy was a business tycoon and politician who served as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain at the beginning of World War II. He "had a well-earned reputation for being a tough, skilled negotiator. It was a reputation I suspect he enjoyed," Jean writes.
"Yet he was enormously big-hearted and open-handed in a way that few people would ever imagine and others would never acknowledge."
She describes her mother as "a petite woman with an indomitable nature and a sure understanding of what we needed in life."
Kennedy Smith writes of how their mother would send her children to the closet if they misbehaved.
“She made it clear that we were not allowed to have our own way or contradict her," Jean writes.
The punishments were “for our own good."
Rose kept track of her children, by keeping their information on index cards that were updated every week: names of godparents, vaccinations, dental appointments, any illnesses or broken bones, height and weight, reports The Daily Mail.
Joe was born in 1915 and quickly became first at everything he did. John, who went by ‘Jack’ in the family, followed two years later. Jean writes that the boy who would go on to become the president of the U.S was often sickly and spent a lot of time reading. John and Joe were the best of friends.
Rosemary was the third. Jean writes “only as I grew up did I realize that Rosemary had challenges that the rest of us did not have. The only words the doctors had to describe her condition were 'mental retardation.’”
Kathleen, and then Eunice came next, followed by Patricia, who has a love of the dramatic arts.
Bobby, who was number seven, had great compassion for everyone and for animals.
Jean, the eighth child, was born in 1928. She was followed by Teddy, the baby of the family, “adored by all.”
Kennedy Smith writes: “Mother and Dad were destined to have a gaggle of children. We would not have been complete if they had stopped at two or four or even six. Nine of us we had to be.
“Even though I was there through it all, it is hard for me to comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who would eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,” she adds.
“At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration,” she writes. “I can say without reservation that I do not remember a day in our childhood without laughter.”
“For those few short years under the same roof, before separation and war, our family was together and we were one. These were happy times. I never felt alone.”
She writes much of the time spent at the family summer home, the “big white house” facing the sea in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. She says her father believed, “If you want your children to come home, buy a house by the sea.” And they did.
“The nine of us always came back to the sea,” Jean writes.
Kennedy Smith also writes of their Irish nanny, Kathleen “Kikoo’ Conboy, who she says, tried to get Bobby to go to sleep by banging his head against the wall and who would line all nine children up every Saturday night to record and weigh each one.
She also mentions the many tragedies that struck the family — Joe Jr, a pilot in the Navy, was killed when his plane was hit in 1944, then four years later Kick was killed in a plane crash in France. John would be assassinated in 1963, then Bobby in 1968.
She writes “these early tragedies were devastating for all of us, yet encouraged by our parents' faith and example, we carried on.”
Jean reveals what it is like to be the last surviving sibling of the family: “Joe, Jack, Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, Bobby, and Ted - all are now gone…We lost Dad, our giant and our leader in 1969, following a series of strokes. Mother remained with us many years longer, until the age of 104 in 1995.
“It is sometimes difficult to comprehend that I am the only member of our original family still living.”
"It is impossible to realize that they will not grace the earth and your life again.”
She ends the memoir with a look to the future. She writes that Joseph and Rose Kennedy had 28 grandchildren, and they and their children and grandchildren "are now part of the future of our world."
They "live very different lives from their forebears … yet the problems that they and the world face today are no different."
"These problems carry the same burden and offer the same opportunity," she adds.
"They require the same determination, focus, and drive that they required of my grandparents, parents, brothers, and sisters, and all the young people of generations before."
Proceeds from the book will be donated to the restoration of the USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the warship named in honor of Jean’s brother that she christened in 1945.