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A Kennedy Content to Stay in the Shadows

Caroline B. Kennedy ’80 leads quiet life after years of hardship

For a Kennedy, she sure doesn’t adore the limelight.

In fact, Caroline B. Kennedy ’80, daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, would rather remain behind the scenes—as a reporter, covering the news as opposed to making it.

Her freshman year, Caroline was introduced at a campaign function for her uncle Sen. Edward Kennedy’s ’54 (D-Mass.) re-election bid—but without a word, quickly faded back towards the cake, doughnut, and coffee table.

“I [already] talked the other night,” the young Kennedy said at the time, more comfortable mingling with the guests one-on-one than mobilizing large crowds.

“And she was scintillating, eloquent, and a warm feeling spread through the crowd as she spoke,” interjected a supporter at her side.

The press-shy Caroline seems to have inherited her mother’s quiet, humble demeanor.

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And although Caroline carried the daunting Kennedy surname—the Harvard school of government stands in her father’s honor and John F. Kennedy street cuts through Harvard Square—she attempted to spend her undergraduate career at Harvard like a normal college student.

She lived on campus her freshman year, although with heightened security. She underwent the competitive Ivy League admissions process and came out lucky—fellow celebrities, such as the kin of Katherine Hepburn and son of Gregory Peck, were never granted acceptance into the Class of 1980.

And she even endured the obligatory Expository Writing requirement.

Scott W. Pink ’80 recalls seeing the famous blonde attending a handful of the Expos classes he shared with her.

“I remember personally being awe-struck,” says Pink today. “I was from a public high school in Long Island. That I was actually in a class with the daughter of one of the most famous presidents ever—and she was just like another normal person.”

But Caroline was an awe-struck admirer sometimes herself.

She would be spotted, as a senior, in a crowd gathered in front of the Coop straining to catch a glimpse of then-professional bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would go on to marry a Kennedy—her cousin Maria Shriver—seven years later.

HER SHARE OF PAIN

With the Kennedy name comes the Kennedy hardship.

Her mother, Jacqueline B. Kennedy, lost a stillborn daughter only 15 months before Caroline’s birth. And another premature child named Patrick died only three months before her husband, President Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963.

The murder of Caroline’s uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, only a few years later and the death of her cousin, Michael A. Kennedy ’80, following a ski accident in 1997, left her emotionally raw.

But the death of her younger brother, John F. Kennedy Jr.—with whom she was extremely close—in 1999 after his plane went down off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, devastated Caroline.

She is said to have clung to her Catholic faith, the comfort of her relatives, and the responsibility to her public duties in the trying first year after the incident.

THE POLITICS OF THE PRESS

Caroline attended a private school in New York’s Upper East Side before enrolling at Concord Academy in Massachusetts and pursuing her interests in film, photography, and social issues.

But for a girl shielded from the press at an early age by her mother, and as a co-author of the constitutional study “The Right to Privacy,” she took quite a liking to the media.

As an 11th grader, she interviewed coal miners in Tennessee for a documentary, and—following a stint as a Crimson reporter—she interned at the New York Daily News in 1977.

Ever the legal buff, having graduated from Columbia Law School in 1988, Caroline’s 1996 treatise, “The Right to Privacy,” investigates the shrinking realm of privacy at the hands of the very profession she sought to join.

She recounts the story of an intrusive Los Angeles television crew who, after trailing a team of paramedics, filmed a man as he died from a heart attack. The network proceeded to broadcast the scene without asking the deceased’s family members for permission.

Although the event proved to be a high-profile case of the press overstepping its bounds, Caroline’s analytic piece dissects the issue of privacy from more than just the media angle.

“That’s usually people’s first reaction: ‘Oh, you’ve had so much experience; you can just write about yourself,’” says Kennedy, following her book’s release. “But the right to privacy involves many different issues, from drug tests and school searches to workplace and technology issues. The media is only part of it, and under the law it’s not even a very big part of it.”

And although she has not indulged personally in politics, she remains loyal to the Kennedy clan.

During her college years, she assisted her uncle, Sen. Kennedy, as an intern in his Washington Office and in his 1980 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Her affinity for art led her to a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she graduated, where she met her husband Edwin Schlossberg—a quiet cultural historian.

She married Schlossberg in 1986 and has had three children—Rose, Tatiana, and John.

And even as she remains one of the most recognizable faces in American politics—serving as honorary chairwoman of the American Ballet Theatre in place of her late mother, co-founder of the Profiles in Courage Awards, president of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and a frequent face at Democratic National Conventions—she applies to motherhood the same need for normalcy that she applied to life at Harvard.

She answers her own phone, cooks for her family, and walks her children to school.

It seems a low-key, mundane existence for the intensely shy woman with the larger-than-life legacy.

—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at peguero@fas.harvard.edu.

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