Political dynasties are as American as apple pie. We all know the names Bush, Clinton, Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Kennedy. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969) and Rose Kennedy (1890-1995) produced nine children together and helped create a legacy that continues to this day. Tragically they lost four of their nine children to violent deaths. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy (1932-2009) carried the touch for the family for many years until his own death in 2009. In death, they became larger than life figures who became staples of American politics. But behind the historical speeches, money, looks and fame was a Kennedy whose life took a tragic course of its own. She is nearly forgotten in history books about the Kennedys but her story is one that must be told. And here, Kate Clifford Larson tells the sad story of Rose Marine “Rosemary” Kennedy (1918-2005).
From the outset, the story is gripping as Rose realizes that something is not right with her daughter who seems to be developing much slower than she should be. It is not long before it is realized that Rosemarie is developmentally disabled. Rose refuses to give up and teaches her daughter, eventually making enough progress where Rosemarie is able to function with some independence. Larson even includes snippets of letters Rosemarie wrote showing both her progress and lack of development.
In the time period in which mental disability was rarely spoken of and in primitive stages of treatment, the Kennedy family name had much to lose. And this could not be allowed. The family desperately wanted to help its beloved Rosemarie and her father Joe, finds out about another new experimental treatment. And this is the turning point in the book and the author captures the tragedy perfectly, driving home the point to the reader. For Rosemarie, her life would never be the same again and in some ways was over for good. Tragically, she spent the rest of her life in an assisted living facility, never again able to venture out on her own. In seclusion, she remained a carefully guarded secret but her sisters would use her disability in one of the most moving examples to date.
While she may have been unaware, Rosemary’s condition served as the catalyst for her brother John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009) to create the Special Olympics, through the Kennedy Foundation in partnership with several organizations. The Special Olympics continues to this day and through the games, the memory of Rosemary Kennedy lives on. This is her story, the good, the bad and the heartbreaking.