When the country and the world were in upheaval, Ethel’s unflagging spirits and mischievous sense of humor were often the perfect antidote to the stresses of Robert’s job. She had regular run-ins with the police, earning speeding tickets and even a court appearance for “stealing” a group of starving horses to save their lives. At many parties she hosted, Ethel had members of President Kennedy’s cabinet pushed into the family swimming pool.
“My father really had the weight of the world on him, and mummy was funny and fun and full of laughter,” recalls Kerry Kennedy.
Drawing on her deep Catholic faith, she was inspired by Robert’s fearless commitment to justice, whether he went after labor racketeer Jimmy Hoffa or tried to end racial segregation at the University of Alabama.
Following Robert’s lead, Ethel took pains to instill in their children the same courage and sense of social justice. The kids went along on campaigns, sat in on crucial hearings, and, when Robert Kennedy ran for senator from New York State, visited the Bronx and Harlem to appreciate how the less-privileged lived. No teachable moment was wasted.
ETHEL revisits the heartbreaking moments that tested her most. John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 unleashed, she says, “a tidal wave of grief…It was six months of just blackness.” Asked to comment on her husband’s assassination at age 42, five years later, Ethel demurs, except to say that her children, along with her faith, helped her get through it. “I'd wake up every morning and imagine him up there with Jack,” she says, referring to the late president.
“That’s carried her, I believe, through everything,” says Courtney Kennedy, including the deaths of Ethel’s sons David from a drug overdose in 1984 and Michael in a skiing accident in 1997. Rory’s birth, six months after Robert’s death, also helped with the healing, Ethel says.