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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Showing the Courage Her Father Held Dear

The intensely private Caroline Kennedy will step into the spotlight to speak about her dad's legacy 40 years after his nomination in Los Angeles.

August 15, 2000|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By all accounts, it will be a three-hanky speech. If you weep when you read it, imagine how you will feel when the russet-haired woman who so strongly resembles her father speaks this evening at the Democratic National Convention.

Caroline Bouvier Kennedy was days away from her 6th birthday when President Kennedy was killed in 1963. Much of her adult life has been spent quietly working to preserve the values that drove her father.

Like her late mother, Jacqueline, she is intensely private, zealously guarding her three children and the primacy of her family life. But with the death of her brother John last year at 38, she is her party's last link to the magical era of Camelot.

Kennedy will speak tonight about her father, who 40 years ago won his party's presidential nomination--also in Los Angeles. His victory made him America's first Roman Catholic president, a landmark on a par with Joseph I. Lieberman's nomination as potentially the first Jewish vice president.

Brown University political science professor Darrell West, who studies the Kennedy family, says Kennedy's appearance tonight signifies "the changing of the guard, not only to the next generation of the Kennedys but also to a particular Kennedy who previously has shunned the spotlight."

Caroline's uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, agreed.

"In a very real sense, President Kennedy's New Frontier was born in Los Angeles 40 years ago this summer," Sen. Kennedy said. "Caroline's presence will be a special reminder of that inspiring time in our recent history. I know my brother would be very proud of her."

Reportedly, her speech makes reference to Caroline's own beloved brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., who captivated his audience when he addressed the Democratic convention in 1988.

Wife, mother, attorney and author, 42-year-old Caroline Kennedy--who declined interview requests--strenuously avoids the Kennedy spotlight. With their two daughters and one son, she and her husband of 14 years, interactive media designer Edwin Schlossberg, 54, live on New York City's Park Avenue.

After the deaths of her mother (in 1994) and her brother, Caroline has moved into their favorite charities. But her most diligent efforts go to her role as president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation board in Boston. One responsibility is to help select the winner of the annual Profile in Courage award. Award chairman John Siegenthaler said Caroline was influential this year in selecting the award's first female--and first Latina--recipient, California state Sen. Hilda Solis (D-East Los Angeles).

Some board members worried that Solis was too obscure, Siegenthaler said. "Caroline smiled rather sagely about that," he said, "and said she'll add luster to the award."

At the award ceremony, Solis met Kennedy, a woman she described as "capable, intelligent, genuine and sincere. She almost has this kind of quieting spirit about her."

Solis said Kennedy told her one reason she was selected was "to pay tribute to her brother, who was a staunch environmentalist." Caroline told Solis that her brother, John, was looking down on both of them and smiling.

"I think all we did was cry, both families, mine and hers," Solis said.

For Caroline, this kind of work is almost a family trait, acquired through adversity, said Paul G. Kirk, chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation.

"Perhaps it's a way of mending their own hearts, by trying to help others and perpetuate the cause--public service--that is so much a part of their family," Kirk said. "In a quiet, understated way, like her mother, one of the ways Caroline continues to do that is to continue to advance and perpetuate the legacy of her father."

Speaking before an enormous live and televised audience, Kennedy is summoning up a quality her father held dear, said Laurence Leamer, author of "The Kennedy Women."

"Her father thought courage was the preeminent virtue, but as he saw it--as the family saw it--it was a kind of manly virtue," Leamer said. "Her standing up before the convention represents a different kind of courage, a spiritual courage."

Kirk, noting that "I'd be willing to bet she didn't raise her hand and seek this," agreed that "she realizes that this is the kind of opportunity that only comes around a few times. If you're going to continue to ask people to recall the standards of her father, this is an opportunity as well as a challenge."

When John F. Kennedy Jr. died, Caroline Kennedy's Uncle Teddy replaced him as godfather to her son, Jack, 7. Uncle and niece are resoundingly close.

"She's a wonderful woman," Sen. Kennedy said. "And her father's memory continues to inspire us both."

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