Curtains for Camelot: Last Kennedy sibling's death ends era
BOSTON (AP) - Camelot's inner circle has almost disappeared - although, as some say, his mind is very much alive.
The death of Jean Kennedy Smith on Wednesday, a celebrated former US ambassador to Ireland and the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, practically wipes out those closest to the murdered 35th US president.
"This is a kind of fall curtain for one of America's three political dynasties - the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and now the Kennedys," said Patrick Maney, a Kennedy scholar and retired history professor at Boston College.
Only Ethel Kennedy, the 92-year-old wife of JFK's brother Robert F. Kennedy, who was hit by an assassin bullet five years later in an enormous struggle for civil rights that now echoes in 2020, remains with us.
"The world seems less bright today," said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, whose husband, former US Senator Edward Kennedy, another JFK brother, died in 2009.
Kennedy Smith, who died in her Manhattan house on Wednesday at the age of 92, is celebrated for playing a vital role in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
She was the eighth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy. In 1956, she married the Kennedy family financial advisor and political strategist Stephen Edward Smith.
Some of her siblings tragically preceded her in decades of death.
Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr., who was killed in action in World War II. Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, who died in a plane crash in 1948, murdered the president in 1963 and murdered the senator in 1968.
Senator Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, the same month that her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.
And the relentless series of tragedies that have hit the clan never seem to stop. Last summer, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, Bobby Kennedy's 22-year-old granddaughter, overdosed on the family's legendary grounds on Cape Cod.
"In recent years we have been reminded of the many tragedies in the Kennedy family," said Maney. "(Kennedy Smith's) death makes us think of some of the family's triumphs and their great accomplishments that have shaped our lives to this day."
The JFK era was called “Camelot” because the youthful president and his glamorous wife Jacqueline Kennedy evoked a feeling of national optimism that was expressed in one line from a Broadway musical: “Don't forget it once gave place for a brief glowing moment known as Camelot. "
For a generation of Americans, the Democratic Party clan was what the United States came closest to the royal family that they have always admired elsewhere.
Of course, traces of the Kennedy era can be seen everywhere.
There's still the extensive Kennedy grounds at Hyannis Port. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate are major attractions for visitors to Boston - or they were before the coronavirus pandemic triggered them temporarily.
And Kennedys is still in office or running for office and is involved in public service. This corresponds to the most sustainable quote from JFK's inaugural speech from 1961: "Don't ask what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
US Representative Joe Kennedy III, the grandson of RFK and the only member of the political dynasty currently in office, is running for the US Senate in Massachusetts.
On Thursday, he called Kennedy Smith an "incredible aunt" who led a "remarkable life."
Amy Kennedy, the wife of former U.S. representative Patrick Kennedy from Rhode Island, is running for a seat in the New Jersey House of Representatives.
Others, like Joseph P. Kennedy II - a former member of Congress who runs a program that helps the poor heat their homes in winter - have found other ways to give something back.
"It's hard to imagine another family having the multiple effects the Kennedys had," said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution's Washington think tank.
But with the death of Jean Kennedy Smith in a time of impartiality, something has gone forever, West said, describing it as "the guard's death".
"This generation was the largest generation," he said. “There have been so many problems since then. People worry about our ability to face the challenges we face. It seems a long time ago that the Kennedys ran the national government. "
Maney sees modern American political history divided into two epochs: Before Kennedy and Since Kennedy.
"The Kennedys are still so under control that no one has been captivated by a generation since then," he said. "There's still something left of Kennedy mysticism."
Follow AP New England editor Bill Kole on Twitter at http://twitter.com/billkole
This story was corrected to indicate that the "Camelot" reference to the JFK era did not come from Shakespeare's writings, but from a Broadway musical, and that Stephen Smith was a Kennedy political strategist and not a White House chief of staff.
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