'Anchor' of the Kennedys knew agony and ecstasy

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The Independent Online
HYANNIS PORT, Mass. - Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the matriarch of America's most prominent families, who died yesterday, lived through three generations of political triumphs and personal tragedies.

She lived in the public eye, always in a supporting role: daughter of a congressman, wife of an ambassador, mother of a US president and US. senators. For her, family was all.

She once described her life as a series of "agonies and ecstasies." The exhilaration of political success and the horror of violent death were twin threads running through it.

Four of her nine children were killed in their prime - two in plane crashes and two by assassins' bullets. One daughter was retarded and a grandson died of a drug overdose.

She was a devout Roman Catholic, and her church helped her bear her sorrows. After President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, she said, "I've learned to be brave and put my faith in the will of God."

Mrs Kennedy was a tireless worker for her sons' election campaigns in her middle years and continued to make public appearances until late in life - maintaining her erect bearing and careful grooming. But she was rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke in April 1984.

Celebrating her 100th birthday, her only surviving son, Edward Kennedy, said, "In the chaos of our household, she was the quiet at the centre of the storm, the anchor of our family, the safe harbour to which we always came."

In her autobiography "Times to Remember", she said: "What greater aspiration and challenge are there for a mother than the hope of raising a great son or daughter?" She said child rearing was a profession "as interesting and challenging as any other honourable profession."

Born in Boston on July 22, 1890, she tasted politics early, parading through the streets with her father, John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a congressman, Boston mayor and Democratic power.

Her wedding to Joseph P. Kennedy in 1914 was front-page news in Boston. Kennedy amassed a fortune in banking, real estate, liquor, films and Wall Street - holdings that grew to an estimated $500 million by the 1980s. He held several federal jobs, including US. ambassador to Britain, but prompted controversy because of his wealth and isolationist views.

Years later, books about the family included reports that Joseph was unfaithful to his wife. There were also allegations that the parents' relationships with their children were distant or worse. But the senator and three of his sisters in a 1992 New York Times article said criticism of their parents in the book "J.F.K.: Reckless Youth" were "outrageous falsehoods."