Robert F Kennedy – Former United States Senator

by Kristine Bigcas

Robert Francis Kennedy is the third son of the famous Kennedy Family and a former 64th US Attorney General. He was also the incumbent US Senator from New York at his time of death. Like his family, he was also a member of the Democratic Party and has constantly shown his support to the group. He ran for the presidency under the said party, defeating Eugene McCarthy in California and South Dakota for the presidential primaries when he was gunned to death. He is considered to be an icon of Modern American Liberalism or generally, Social Liberalism. He has served the United States of America as a politician from 1961 until his death in 1968.

He also rendered service to the US Military, particularly in the US Naval force. He was a seaman apprentice in the United States Naval Reserve from 1944 to 1946. He was deployed to the unit USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. in World War II, which coincidentally, was a vessel named after his older brother who also died in combat in earlier years.

RFK spearheaded the senatorial campaign of his brother, John F Kennedy in 1952 which started his first involvement in politics. He was the manager of the successful campaign in both the senatorial and presidential run of JFK. He was also a correspondent for The Boston even before he began serving as a politician himself. Before he managed John’s presidential run, he first served as the assistant counsel to the Senate committee during Joe McCarthy’s time and the chief counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee.

Early Life

Bobby, as he is called by family and friends, was born on November 20, 1925. He was born and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was brought up in a family with wealth and of the Catholic faith. He, along with his siblings, were all greatly encouraged to stay updated with the current events and focus their drive in public service. During their younger years, Robert and his brother John would take walks and discuss the stories John read. Both of them are very fond of the works of John Buchan. Among his siblings, he was most likely to visit historic sites and play math games for fun due to their mother’s teaching. He also made newspaper deliveries using the family’s Rolls-Royce with their chauffeur driving him around. When his mother found out about this, she forced him to stop.

For his education, Robert attended the Riverdale Country School from preschool to second grade. It was a private school for boys. In the following years, he moved to Bronxville public school before going back to Riverdale Country School in the sixth grade.

He was more of an introvert growing up. He recalls spending time alone especially that he was transferring schools a lot. As he got older, he got more interested in American history along with postage stamps. Due to his collection, Sir Franklin Roosevelt himself has written him a letter by hand. By the time he was in his seventh grade, Robert studied in Gibbs School for Boys in London but he transferred a year later to St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. However, his mother has transferred him to Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island where he studied until tenth grade. His mother did not like St. Paul’s use of Protestant Bible and why she opted that he studied in a Benedictine boarding school instead.

In eleventh grade, his father made him transfer to Milton Academy, another boarding school in Massachusetts. This was in preparation for his undergraduate studies at Harvard University. During his stay in the academy, the headmaster described him to be a “very intelligent boy, quiet and shy, but not outstanding, and he left no special mark on Milton.” There, he made friends with David Hackett and both of them would go to the Sunday mass together. Apart from his friendship with David, he also made a connection and started a relationship with Piedy Bailey.

Family

Robert comes from a family of Irish immigrants: both his maternal and paternal side. His family moved to Riverdale in September 1927 before moving close to Bronxville in 1929. He spent his Christmas and Easter days in their home in Palm Beach, Florida and the summers autumn holidays in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Both houses were already acquired by his parents—the family home in Hyannis Port in 1929 and the winter home in 1933.

The Kennedy Family

His parents are prominent individuals and Robert spent most of his growing years trying to meet the expectations of his mom and prove himself to his father who focused his attention on Joe Jr. and John. In fact, when he was younger, his father thought that he was too soft on others but later on changed his view of him and saw that he had become “hard as nails” in comparison to his siblings. His mother wanted him to be the most gentle and most religious among all her children, which drove a wedge to the relationship of Robert and his father since his father wanted the exact opposite.

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.

Father to Robert and his siblings is Joseph “Joe Sr.” Kennedy. He was a businessman and a politician who served as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. Originally hailing from a political clan in Boston, Massachusetts, he first made his income from investing in stocks. He also gained fame from importing illegal liquor from outside of the country during prohibition time. He also obtained more money when he exclusively distributed Gordon’s Gin and Dewar’s Scotch. He was the son of politician Patrick Joseph Kennedy and Mary Augusta Hickey.

He grew up in a privileged family due to his father’s businesses and investments. He married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of his father’s political rival on October 07, 1914. His marriage to Rose bound both big political clans in Boston. He groomed his eldest child Joe Jr. to be fit for the presidential position. However, after Joe Jr.’s untimely death, the responsibility was passed on to his second son, John. Joe Sr. didn’t have the best relationship with Robert but nonetheless, was impressed by his personality when he became an adult.

Joe Sr. suffered a stroke on December 19, 1961, and was paralyzed on his right side. This left him confined to a wheelchair until his last living day. Through time, he suffered aphasia which led him to lose his ability to speak. He still appeared in a filmed message after Robert’s death. On November 18, 1969, Joe Sr. died at his home in Hyannis Port at the age of 81 years old.

Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald

She is known for the title of Countess granted to her by the Vatican. Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on July 22, 1890, to then Boston Mayor John Francis Fitzgerald and Mary Josephine Hannon. She attended a Girl’s Latin School back in her early days. Later on, she studied in a convent school in The Netherlands. She also studied piano on the side and completed her undergraduate studies at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She had the honor of having a private meeting with the Pope St. Pius X with her father when they toured Europe.

Her marriage with Joseph Kennedy was not all velvety. Joe Sr. had extramarital affairs with Gloria Swanson which led her to temporarily moving back her parents’ home. However, after her father’s disapproval of the thought of divorce, she moved back with her husband and received medication to cope up with nervousness and stress. Throughout her living, she was a devoted Catholic who rarely missed the mass. She was always prude and kept her religious belief even until she passed her 100th birthday. She published an autobiography in 1974 that described her experience as a homemaker. In her book she said,

I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and a duty, but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best I could bring to it….. What greater aspiration and challenge are there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?

In her later years, she became a philanthropist who supported different charities and organizations that involved mostly women’s groups. She was also included in the International Best Dressed List during John’s reign as president. It was Pope Pius XII that granted her the Countess title for “exemplary motherhood and many charitable works.” Moreover, like her husband, she also suffered a stroke in 1984. Eleven years later, she succumbed to death on January 22, 1995, due to the complications of Pneumonia. She was 104 years old when she died.

Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr.

He was the eldest in the Kennedy family and was expected by his father to qualify for the Presidential position. He was born on July 25, 1915. He attended Dexter School in Massachusetts and also studied at Choate School in Connecticut before studying at Harvard University. He graduated in 1938 after actively playing football among other sports and becoming a member of the student council. He was also a student of London School of Economics before proceeding to the Harvard School of Law. His grandfather, then-Mayor of Boston, stated that “This child is the future President of the nation” in the prediction that he will someday become the president of the country. Unfortunately, Joe Jr. died in combat after being deployed for a top-secret mission. He was then a Lieutenant in the United States Navy under the Special Air Unit 1. He was appointed to his position on July 01, 1944.

While flying the BQ-8 for the Operation Aphrodite of the US Navy, he and co-lieutenant Wilford John Willy were killed mid-air after the BQ-8 made a complete turn near the North Sea coast. The last known words of Joe Jr. were “Spade Flush” before the Torpex explosive they were carrying exploded. The premature explosion killed him and Lieutenant Willy on the spot.

In a telegram dated August 1944 that was sent in between General Carl Andrew Spaatz and General Jimmy Doolittle, it was reported that:

ATTEMPTED FIRST APHRODITE ATTACK TWELVE AUGUST WITH ROBOT TAKING OFF FROM FERSFIELD AT ONE EIGHT ZERO FIVE HOURS PD ROBOT EXPLODED IN THE AIR AT APPROXIMATELY TWO THOUSAND FEET EIGHT MILES SOUTHEAST OF HALESWORTH AT ONE EIGHT TWO ZERO HOURS PD WILFORD J. WILLY CMA SR GRADE LIEUTENANT AND JOSEPH P. KENNEDY SR GRADE LIEUTENANT CMA BOTH USNR CMA WERE KILLED PD COMMANDER SMITH CMA IN COMMAND OF THIS UNIT CMA IS MAKING FULL REPORT TO US NAVAL OPERATIONS PD A MORE DETAILED REPORT WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU WHEN INTERROGATION IS COMPLETED

His death ended the hope of his father for him to become the next president, but has resulted in his brother, John Kennedy, to receive burden of fulfilling their father’s dreams. Joe Jr. received the Navy Cross, the second-highest award for valor in combat, for his heroic actions that ended his life on August 12, 1944, at Mimoyecques, France.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Another prominent member of Robert’s family is JFK or also referred to as Jack. He is the 35th President of the United States of America and the second son of the Kennedy family. John was born on May 29, 1917. He was a student of Edward Devotion School and Dexter School before he transferred to Riverdale Country School and Canterbury School. He also studied at Choate where his older brother used to study.

JFK had many problems with his health during his earlier years. In fact, due to health reasons, he had to move back to the United States despite his wants of studying at the London School of Economics. He studied at Princeton College but had to stop due to gastrointestinal problems. He then enrolled in Harvard University stating that he also wanted to be a “Harvard Man” like his father.

He also served the US Naval Reserve from 1941 to 1945. During his time in service, he commanded both PT-109 and PT-59. He suffered various illnesses while in service which often led him to be hospitalized. While in the Chelsea Naval Hospital, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the highest noncombat award for heroism and the Purple Heart Medal. He was then honorably discharged on March 01, 1945 after his retirement due to disability. His last position was a full rank Lieutenant.

After his naval service, he started his political career as a member of the US Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He then moved upwards to the senate seat from 1953 to 1960. On January 20, 1961, he took his position as the 35th President of America, becoming the youngest President to be elected. However, JFK was not able to complete his full term after he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963. He was shot twice while on the presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas. He was given a state funeral at the East Room of the White House before he was laid in state at the US Capitol. His body was then brought to St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the requiem mass and was then buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Edward Moore Kennedy

The youngest of the Kennedy brothers was Edward Moore or popularly known as Ted Kennedy. He was born on February 22, 1932, and followed the same footsteps as his siblings. He graduated from Harvard University although he was expelled once for cheating on his Spanish language examination. While waiting for the time of his eligibility to come, he enlisted in the US Army.

Unlike his brothers, Ted chose to be in the army instead of the US Navy. He retained a private first class until he was discharged on March 1953. For his law school, he enrolled in University of Virginia School of Law like Robert, after failing to qualify for Harvard Law School.

He also joined his brothers in politics. He became a US Senator on November 07, 1962, while his brother Robert was the Attorney General and John was the president. During JFK’s assassination, he was presiding the Senate when he was told that his brother was shot. It was Robert who had broken the news to him about the death of their brother.

He also suffered an accident of his own on June 19, 1964. The private plane he was on crashed as it made its final approach. It took months in the hospital for him to recover. Despite that, his wife’s campaign for his election was still effective thus, winning the regular 1964 US Senate election. He continued being a long time Senator for the United States of America. He was still a senator until his death on August 25, 2009. He was already 77 when he passed away. Like his brothers, he was given a public funeral, this time at JFK Library in Boston before his body was returned to Washington D.C. and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery near his brothers.

Wife and Children

Robert married Ethel Skakel, a human-rights campaigner and a classmate of his sister. She is a daughter of the businessman George Skakel. They both met while on a ski trip in Quebec in December 1945. He first dated her elder sister but when the relationship failed, he and Ethel got together. They got married on June 17, 1950, at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenwich. They both moved to Virginia as he had to continue his last year of law school at the University of Virginia School of Law. Together they have eleven children: Kathleen, Joseph (a namesake of Robert’s father), Robert Jr., David, Courtney, Michael, Kerry, Christopher, Max, Douglas, and Rory (she was born six months after his untimely death). During their marriage, they both stayed in their estate, dubbed as Hickory Hill, at McLean, Virginia.

After the death of Robert, Ethel continued living in Hickory Hill with her eleven children. It is said that she lost grip of her children, especially with Robert Jr. who continued to spiral down as he grew older. It is said that she also had “uncontrollable rage” which resulted in a big turnover rate in Hickory Hill. It was even nicknamed Horror Hill after stories of the previous workers in the house had come out. She also had problems in terms of finances.

Most of her wealth was tied in trusts and the Kennedys only made financial contributions for her and for the children. In fact, the bill for the rehearsal dinner of Robert Jr.’s wedding was only paid partially by Ethel. It wasn’t until two years later with a threat of being exposed on TV that the outstanding balance was settled in full by a Kennedy family member.

Their sons David and Michael died on 1984 and 1997, respectively. David died of an overdose while Michael got into an accident while playing football on skis. Robert Jr.’s ex-wife also committed suicide in 2012 after her rocky marriage with him.

Death

Roberte died prematurely on June 06, 1968, at the age of 42 years old. He was assassinated by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan using a .22 revolver. He was at the hotel kitchen of The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California when Sirhan fired his weapon. He was first advised by his bodyguard to avoid the kitchen pathway but he still went through it and shook hands with the staff in there. He was shaking Juan Romero’s hand when he got shot. Romero placed a rosary on his hand while he answered Robert’s question if everyone was okay. His last words were “Don’t lift me” which was directed to the medics that carried him on a stretcher.

Funeral

His body was laid at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan on June 08, 1968 before his requiem mass at 10:00 A.M. It was concluded with The Battle of the Hymn Republic by the rendition of Andy Williams. His younger brother made the eulogy for him which was regarded as one of the best speeches in the world. He said:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.

His body was then transported to Washington D.C. on a private train that passed through the U.S. Senate building then to the Lincoln Memorial. The Battle of the Hymn Republic was played by the Marine Corps Band. His body arrived at the Arlington Memorial at 10:24 P.M. and had a 15-minute ceremony. He was buried near his brother, John F Kennedy who was also assassinated five years before he died. His burial was the first nighttime ceremony that was ever held in the cemetery. During his time of death, he was an incumbent Senator and the winning Democrat Presidential Candidate.

Net Worth and Assets

Back in 1955, he has bought Hickory Hill from his brother John. It is a 5.6-acre property with thirteen bedrooms that was originally put in listing with the initial selling price of $25 million. It was withdrawn in November 2008 temporarily but was later sold a year later for $8.25 million to a businessman in Virginia.