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Friends, family gather to remember Bessette sisters

By Helen O'Neill, Associated Press, 07/24/99

GREENWICH, Conn. - Friends and family members gathered Saturday to bid a final farewell to Lauren Bessette and her sister Carolyn, who perished with John F. Kennedy Jr. in a plane crash in the Atlantic.

Bessette memorial Ann Freeman (second from right), mother of Lauren Bessette and Carolyn Bessette arrives at Christ Church in Greenwich, Conn., for a private memorial service on Saturday. (AP Photo)

In the week since the accident, there have been countless eulogies for the 38-year-old son of Camelot.

But the Bessette sisters have been remembered not so much for how they lived their lives as for what they became in death - figures in another Kennedy tragedy.

Not in Greenwich, the affluent shoreline town where the Bessettes grew up. Here at a private memorial service at Christ Church they were remembered as two bright young women with promised-filled futures.

"I can still see Lauren, tall and graceful with those adorably quirky hand gestures,'' her uncle Dr. Jack Messina told about 400 invited guests, who attended the hour and a half long service.

"I see her tossing that long shiny hair and hear her laughter. I sense her vitality and her strength and her love. We shall miss her.''

The candlelight service was held in the name of Lauren - the "other Bessette'', the victim the world knew least - although prayers were also offered for Carolyn and John.

Lauren earned her business degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. The 34-year-old investment banker rose rapidly in the world of international finance and worked for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in New York for eight years. She specialized in Asian investments and was based in Hong Kong until about a year ago.

She would probably never have been buried at sea - in a stately ceremony aboard a Navy destroyer with a folded American flag - except for the fact that her glamorous 33-year-old sister had married a Kennedy.

"Their departure has left an enormous void in all our lives and has touched the lives of millions,'' Messina said.

Numerous members of the Kennedy clan attended the service, described as "tearful and joyful'' by the Rev. Rev. Hugh Tudor-Foley, one of three celebrants. Mourners included JFK Jr.'s sister Caroline Kennedy, uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, aunts Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith, cousins Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's lieutenant governor, Douglas Kennedy, Maxwell Kennedy, Maria Shriver, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo as well as Rory Kennedy and her fiance, Mark Bailey, whose wedding was cut short by the tragedy.

Ann Freeman, the Bessette sisters' mother, and Dr. Richard Freeman, their stepfather arrived early, along with Lauren's twin, Lisa Ann. The parents attended a separate service for Kennedy and his wife in New York on Friday.

Outside Christ Church, people gathered to show support for the family, leaving bouquets and hand-written notes.

David Dall, a former high school classmate of Lauren's, placed flowers on a makeshift memorial. Although he hadn't seen her since they graduated from Greenwich High School in 1982, he felt compelled to pay his respects. "We're here to show the family our hearts are with them,'' he said.

"They were beautiful people,'' said Idoline Kearns of Larchmont, NY, who arrived mid-afternoon with her husband, Richard. "We feel we have an obligation to sit here, three or four hours. We're here for both families.''

"Devastating,'' said Chuck Morrell, the chief sexton of Christ Church, as he helped with preparations at the 90-year-old Gothic building earlier in the day. "Two daughters who were living life to the full. No parent should have to bear such a loss,'' Morrell said.

Beneath the arched red wooden doors, a hand-scribbled card lay beside a bouquet of carnations.

"John, Carolyn and Lauren,'' the note read. "Our thoughts and prayers are with you.''

Next to it, a bunch of wildflowers lay over a child's drawing of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Earlier in the week, in a brief, poignant statement, the family said it had drawn comfort from the fact that Carolyn and John "will comfort Lauren for eternity.''

The statement added, "Nothing in life is preparation for the loss of a child.''


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