An uncle celebrates nephew's life

July 24, 1999

Excerpts from the eulogy delivered by John F. Kennedy Jr.'s uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy:

Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected president, he said, "I guess the first thing is call up Uncle Teddy and gloat." I loved that. It was so like his father.

From the first day of his life, John seemed to belong not only to our family, but to the American family.

The whole world knew his name before he did.

A famous photograph showed John racing across the lawn as his father landed in the White House helicopter and swept up John in his arms. When my brother saw that photo, he exclaimed, "Every mother in the United States is saying, `Isn't it wonderful to see that love between a son and his father, the way that John races to be with his father.' Little do they know, that son would have raced right by his father to get to that helicopter."

But John was so much more than those long ago images emblazoned in our minds. He was a boy who grew into a man with a zest for life and a love of adventure. He was a pied piper who brought us all along. He was blessed with a father and mother who never thought anything mattered more than their children.

When they left the White House, Jackie's soft and gentle voice and unbreakable strength of spirit guided him surely and securely to the future. He had a legacy, and he learned to treasure it. He was part of a legend, and he learned to live with it. Above all, Jackie gave him a place to be himself, to grow up, to laugh and cry, to dream and strive on his own.

John learned that lesson well. He had amazing grace. He accepted who he was, but he cared more about what he could and should become. He saw things that could be lost in the glare of the spotlight. And he could laugh at the absurdity of too much pomp and circumstance.

He loved to travel across the city by subway, bicycle and roller blade. He lived as if he were unrecognizable, although he was known by everyone he encountered. He always introduced himself, rather than take anything for granted. He drove his own car and flew his own plane, which is how he wanted it. He was the king of his domain.

John was also the son who was once protected by his mother. He went on to become her pride -- and then her protector in her final days. He was the Kennedy who loved us all, but who especially cherished his sister, Caroline, celebrated her brilliance, and took strength and joy from their lifelong mutual admiration society.

And for a thousand days, he was a husband who adored the wife who became his perfect soul mate. John's father taught us all to reach for the moon and the stars. John did that in all he did -- and he found his shining star when he married Carolyn Bessette. How often our family will think of the two of them, cuddling affectionately on a boat, surrounded by family as we sailed Nantucket Sound.

Then we would come home, and before dinner, on the lawn where his father had played, John would lead a spirited game of touch football. And his beautiful young wife, the new pride of the Kennedys, would cheer for John's team and delight her nieces and nephews with her somersaults.

We loved Carolyn. She and her sister Lauren were young extraordinary women of high accomplishment. We mourn their loss and honor their lives. The Bessette and Freeman families will always be part of ours....

The Irish ambassador recited a poem to John's father and mother soon after John was born. I can hear it again now.

"We wish to the new child,

A heart that can be beguiled,

By a flower,

That the wind lifts,

As it passes.

If the storms break for him,

May the trees shake for him,

Their blossoms down.

In the night that he is troubled,

May a friend wake for him,

So that his time be doubled,

And at the end of all loving and love

May the Man above,

Give him a crown."

We thank the millions who have rained blossoms down on John's memory. He and his bride have gone to be with his mother and father, where there will never be an end to love. He was lost on that troubled night, but we will always wake for him, so that his time, which was not doubled, but cut in half, will live forever in our memory, and in our beguiled and broken hearts.

We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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