Do You know the Kennedys?



Ethel Skakel Kennedy is one of the last living members of the inner family circle around John and Robert Kennedy – the two politicians who influenced society and politics in the America of the 1960s as well as in the rest of the world.


For almost 60 years she has been a part of a family who has always stood in the focus of public life, and who seems to be haunted by numerous traumatic tragedies. After the assassinations of the two white hopes »Jack« and »Bobby« in 1963 and 1968 and Jackie’s death in 1994, she remains, together with Edward Kennedy, one of the last eye-witnesses of the inner circle around the two Kennedy brothers. 

Ethel and Bobby 

The wedding of the 22-year-old Ethel Skakel and the 25-year-old Robert F. Kennedy took place on June 17, 1950. Similar to the Kennedy family, Ethel came from a wealthy background, her father had risen from an ordinary railroad worker to a co-founder and owner of a big coal and oil company. In 1992 his company merged with a sub-company of the German Siemens Corporation into a new company, which is still active in the chemical industry. 


Ethel and Robert first met in 1945 during a skiing trip to Canada. Although Robert had a girlfriend at that time, it did not take long until the two found together. Ethel’s ambitions and her interest in politics inspired her sister-in-law, Jackie, to the half-ironic comment that Ethel would be a promising candidate for the American presidency. Already in 1946 she supported JFK’s election campaign for the House of Representatives. Further, she wrote her thesis about John’s book »Why England slept« and she seemed to be very close to the Kennedy family at that time. Her meticulousness and ambition to handle representative tasks very well stood out enormously. 


In association with the press she always underlined that the success of the Kennedys was close to her heart. It always appeared that she liked to be part of the perfectionist family, who was eager to cultivate a positive image. Much more than Jackie did she think in political categories, being aware of the influence of the private live on her husband’s political career. 


The Widow

After Robert’s assassination in 1968, Ethel – with reference to her Catholic faith – decided not to get married again. Rory, their eleventh and youngest child, was born only a few months her father’s death. 


In the 1970s, Ethel concentrated more and more on her societal engagement. In particular, she put a lot of energy into the »Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration« project, which was co-founded by her husband and still supports community work and charitable projects in Brooklyn. 


However, she was not spared from further tragedies. In 1983, her son Robert Jr. was arrested for the possession of heroin. In the following year, her 20-year-old son David was found dead in a hotel room. He died of an overdose of heroin. Ethel’s and Robert’s other son Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado, in 1997. 

Ethel Kennedy, the matriarch of the family clan, celebrated her 80th birthday on April 11, 2008. She has 23 grandchildren.