Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

January 24, 1995

With his financial successes, his ambition and drive, Joseph P. Kennedy made possible his family's rise as the country's most successful political dynasty of the modern era. But it was his wife, Rose, who instilled in her nine children the ideals of public service and the sense of civic duty that inspired them to pursue it.

Anyone whose life spans more than a century will witness momentous changes. In her 104 years, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who died Sunday, not only watched those changes, she and her family often played leading roles. She was born when women could not vote, but she was no stranger to politics. As a young woman, she often accompanied her father, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald in his appearances as mayor of Boston. In the 1930s, she basked in the role of wife of the American ambassador to Great Britain. Later, she took an active part in her sons' successful campaigns for public office. She also lived to see her oldest grandchild, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, become the first woman to hold the office of lieutenant governor of Maryland -- and the first female member of the family to hold any elective office.

Rose Kennedy did her work well; the legacy of public service runs strong in her family. Lieutenant Governor Townsend is one of five family members now holding public office. Another grandson, Mark K. Shriver, is serving in the Maryland House of Delegates, two grandsons are congressmen, and her sole surviving son, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, has served in the U.S. Senate for 33 years. A daughter, Jean Kennedy Smith, is ambassador to Ireland. Another daughter, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, has used the Special Olympics to bring about significant improvements in cultural attitudes toward the mentally retarded.

As matriarch of a family marked both by great triumphs and cruel tragedies, Rose Kennedy became over the years an enduring symbol of fortitude and faith. She lost her eldest son to combat, a daughter to an airplane crash, and two sons to political assassinations. Without her knowledge, her husband sought a lobotomy for a retarded daughter with disastrous results. But no tragedy, no scandal ever seemed to shake her loose from her moorings. "I just feel I must refuse ever to be daunted," she once said. "I must refuse to be vanquished and have faith that everything will be all right because we are all in God's hands."

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