A vic­tim of her fa­ther’s bound­less am­bi­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - By Muriel Dob­bin


Rose­mary Kennedy was more than the se­cret of the na­tion’s most glam­orous po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. She was a tragedy and in many re­spects the shame of those who should have cared for her most.

Rose­mary be­came the vic­tim of the bound­less am­bi­tion and re­mark­able ca­pac­ity for cru­elty of her par­ents. What this book re­veals is a chill­ing glimpse of what lay be­yond the much flaunted parental devo­tion of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. All her life, which be­gan with a botched birth that ap­par­ently was her mother’s de­ci­sion, Rose­mary strug­gled to be what she was not and could never be. Her par­ents would not rec­og­nize or ac­cept that Rose­mary was not like her eight ram­bunc­tious sib­lings who ful­filled the roar­ing am­bi­tion of their fa­ther who be­came an am­bas­sador with lean­ings to­ward Nazism, amassed a for­tune and made his name as a phi­lan­derer.

His chil­dren fol­lowed in his foot­steps to­ward global promi­nence. One son be­came pres­i­dent of the United States and was as­sas­si­nated. An­other be­came a U.S sen­a­tor and was mur­dered. A third died in the war that his fa­ther de­spised. Those who sur­vived were tough enough to suc­ceed on the com­pet­i­tive path their par­ents ap­proved. Their mother Rose bore nine chil­dren and never ad­mit­ted that de­spite her deeply reli­gious life, she tol­er­ated a hus­band who was a se­rial adul­terer. Poor Rose­mary was the child who didn’t and couldn’t live up to the Kennedy de­mand for per­fec­tion of per­for­mance. At the re­quest of her fa­ther, at the age of 23, she suf­fered a frontal lo­bot­omy with­out anes­thet­ics that crip­pled her for life and also left her bereft of either pa­ter­nal or ma­ter­nal af­fec­tion. In­stead, they pro­vided financial sup­port and the pro­tec­tion of an in­sti­tu­tion and a well-paid nurs­ing staff.

It was Rose­mary’s broth­ers and sis­ters who showed com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing for their in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled sis­ter. Rose Kennedy emerges as a vir­tual ma­ter­nal mon­ster ca­pa­ble of in­flict­ing pain to en­force dis­ci­pline on her brood, and she ig­nored the life that Rose­mary was con­demned to live. There was no room for fail­ure in the Kennedy fam­ily. Kath­leen, the daugh­ter who de­fied her mother’s reli­gious fe­roc­ity, was re­jected even as a widow of an English no­ble­man. It is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the hypocrisy of Rose Kennedy let alone her ca­pac­ity for bru­tal­ity that makes it re­mark­able that any of her chil­dren grew up nor­mal let alone suc­cess­ful.

Surely the most bit­ter irony of the saga of Rose­mary was that her prob­lem be­gan with dam­age in­flicted at birth be­cause of the late ar­rival of the doc­tor de­creed by her par­ents. It was not enough that Rose­mary be­came a beau­ti­ful child and lively young girl. She could not keep up with her fam­ily, and she was sent from school to school in the hope that her in­tel­lec­tual slow­ness would im­prove. Her brother Jack was con­stantly sick, but the Kennedys could tol­er­ate be­ing ill, not be­ing dif­fer­ent. Her sib­lings showed the only con­sid­er­a­tion Rose­mary re­ceived and dur­ing her sur­pris­ingly long life, it was they, es­pe­cially her sis­ter Eu­nice, who set in mo­tion pro­grams and leg­is­la­tion to ease the prob­lems of the men­tally chal­lenged. Mean­time, the grisly lobotomies con­tin­ued for two decades de­spite con­tin­u­ing warn­ings that they were of no help to the pa­tients.

Kate Clif­ford Larsen, her­self the mother of a dis­abled child, has writ­ten a dis­turb­ing and poignant ac­count of suf­fer­ing that should not have hap­pened, es­pe­cially in such cir­cum­stances. It was dis­cov­ered al­most at once that Rose­nary’s surgery was a dis­as­ter that left her un­able to walk or talk. The lovely young woman who was pre­sented to the queen in Lon­don emerged “al­most com­pletely dis­abled.”

The grim epi­taph to the story of Rose­mary, the author re­ports, was that “there is no record of Rose vis­it­ing her el­dest daugh­ter for more than twenty years.” The fam­ily was told lit­tle about what had been done to Rose­mary. The young Teddy Kennedy at nine wor­ried “that he had bet­ter do what Dad wanted or the same thing could hap­pen to me.” His fa­ther had warned him, “There will be no cry­ing in this house.” It would ap­pear there was lit­tle for Rose­mary. Muriel Dob­bin is a former White House and na­tional po­lit­i­cal reporter for McClatchy news­pa­pers and the Bal­ti­more Sun.

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