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Privately, a very private survivor grieves

By Tina Cassidy, Globe Staff, 07/19/99

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg was not at her family's Hyannis Port compound yesterday - surrounded by television lights and reporters - but at home on Long Island with her husband and children, suddenly her only immediate family.

As her brother's disappearance and presumed death dominated media attention and conversations among strangers, Caroline, 41, seemed apart and alone.

The most private member of the family, she is now left to publicly carry on her parents' considerable legacy, and to face that task without the company of the brother she adored and protected.

''I know she was very close to her mother and brother and having lost both of them in such a short time is a terrible blow,'' Bishop Sean O'Malley, who celebrated a Mass in John's name at St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis, said yesterday.

She has lived through her father's assassination and her mother's losing battle with cancer.

A quiet mother, lawyer, and author, she seemed glad to let sibling John monopolize the spotlight.

On Saturday night, she flew to New York from a rafting trip out West, avoiding reporters and photographers who had staked out airports in Massachusetts, and repaired to her home in Bridgehampton, Long Island.

Although it remains unclear why Kennedy Schlossberg did not plan to attend Rory Kennedy's wedding in Hyannis Port, her brother's destination, she has often seemed slightly removed from the rest of the clan.

Like her mother, she has been protective of her children, ages 12, 9, and 6. Today, Kennedy and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, mark their 13th wedding anniversary.

''The fact that she was not scheduled to be at Rory's wedding, there was a message that, yes, there are parts of my life that are Kennedy, but there's parts that are not,'' said Greg Payne, a media observer from Emerson College. ''There's a real media savvyness on Caroline's part. I'm not saying it's deliberate that she's not at the compound, but there's a symbolic part of her that needs some space to grieve because she's the last surviving member.''

It is a position she has cultivated since her introduction to public life came - unpleasantly - at age 2.

Her father returned to Hyannis Port from the Democratic convention, triumphant in his nomination as presidential candidate. The toddler ran to the door to greet him, and recoiled when flashbulbs popped furiously. She turned to run. He quickly scooped her up.

''Don't be afraid, darling,'' the president told his daughter. ''They won't hurt you.''

But in her 1,000 days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, even her chicken pox made news. So did her first words, which supposedly were ''daddy,'' ''hat,'' ''car,'' ''shoes,'' ''thank you,'' and ''airplane,'' the machine that frequently carried her father away and ultimately claimed her brother.

''She generally avoids press attention but she now is going to rise in prominence as the sole surviving member of that family,'' said Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, John's alma mater. ''She is going to attract a lot of press attention whether she wants it or not. About the only time she has sought press attention was when she wrote a book.''

The title of that work: ''The Right to Privacy.''

But she never shied away from the Profile in Courage Award, the annual event at the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, personally calling the recipients to inform them they had won the honor.

Kennedy Schlossberg also serves as the president of the Kennedy Library Foundation, which supports education and cultural programs.

''She is very devoted to the misssion of the library. Mrs. Onassis was equally devoted. It was the national memorial to President Kennedy ... She wanted it to be a vital, living center,'' said one person familiar with her work.

Caroline ''is a very private person who is very committed to this part of her father's legacy,'' the person said.

Meanwhile, John focused on the Institute of Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which was also set up as a memorial to the slain president. John Jr. had served as a member of the board since 1984.

''She has come and done forum events and things at the school,'' said Catherine McLaughlin, the institute's executive director, adding that John was more hands-on than his sister. ''We're not sure how that's going to change right now.''

By all accounts, Caroline and John were very close. He was born a few days before she turned 3, and the proud sister told people she had gotten a brother for her birthday. Even as a little girl she was said to have a warm and protective attitude toward him.

At age 5, Caroline was being described as poised, smart, and independent, still fitting adjectives today, according to those who know her.

Hers has not been an easy life.

An English nanny broke the news of her father's asassination to her.

''Daddy has been shot and they took him to the hospital but they couldn't make him better,'' her tearful governess, Maud Shaw, was quoted as saying.

Caroline lost another brother, Patrick, two days after he was born. Cubans were suspected of plotting her kidnapping as a girl. And when she was 18, studying Oriental art at a Sotheby's program, a terrorist bomb meant for British officials exploded outside the London residence where she was staying. The blast killed a doctor who happened to be walking by.

Caroline then went on to Harvard, and briefly worked at the New York Daily News as an editorial assistant. Understanding the press, however, did not stem her retreat.

For one thing, her mother engendered some of that distance, shielding her from the rowdier side of the family as much as from the press. But others say Caroline has always seemed somewhat alone.

''The other difference between her and the other Kennedy kids ... is her isolation,'' a friend of Caroline's who went to Concord Academy with her told a reporter years ago.

One of Rory Kennedy's wedding guests disagreed.

''She's not all alone,'' said the person, who asked not to be identified. ''It's a large, supportive family but in a nuclear sense, yes,'' she's alone.

Bishop O'Malley remembered Rose Kennedy, and said he hopes Caroline can be just as strong.

''We pray for her faith,'' O'Malley said. ''I hope this new generation of Kennedys, that their faith will be able to sustain them.''

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A08 of the Boston Globe on 07/19/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.


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