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Patricia Kennedy Lawford, 82; Sister of John F. Kennedy and Wife of Actor Peter Lawford

September 18, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Patricia Kennedy Lawford, a sister of President John F. Kennedy whose wedding to actor Peter Lawford in the 1950s was one of the first marriages of politics and Hollywood and provided her brother with many of his closest entertainment industry ties, has died. She was 82.

Lawford died Sunday at her home in New York City of complications from pneumonia, according to a statement from the Kennedy family.

"My sister Pat is irreplaceable," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in the statement. "Everyone who knew Pat adored her. She was admired for her great style, for her love and support of the arts, her wit and generosity -- and for the singular sense of wonder and joy she brought into our lives.

"Throughout her life, Pat was constantly inspiring and helping others. Whether it was campaigning for her brothers or championing literacy and the arts, her purest gift was her beautiful heart, and it shone brightly in all she did."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 19, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Patricia Lawford obituary: The obituary of Patricia Kennedy Lawford in Monday's California section said her brother Joseph Jr. died while flying a fighter plane in World War II. He died while flying a Navy bomber.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 18, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Patricia Lawford obituary: The obituary of Patricia Kennedy Lawford in the Sept. 18, 2006, California section included a photograph said to show Lawford with sister Eunice Shriver and actress Lauren Bacall. It was Lawford's sister Jean Kennedy Smith, not Lawford, who was shown in the photo. This error was only recently brought to editors' attention. A corrected caption is shown above, as well as a photograph of Lawford herself.

While living in New York, Pat Lawford became a founder of the National Committee for the Literary Arts, which provided a series of author lectures and scholarships. She was involved with the refurbishment of the exhibits at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. She also served as an officer of the Kennedy Foundation for the Mentally Retarded.

In 1964, she served as the statewide co-chairperson of former Kennedy White House press secretary Pierre Salinger's campaign for the U.S. Senate from California, and she campaigned the same year for California Democratic congressional candidate John V. Tunney, who later was elected U.S. senator. She also supported the various campaigns of her brothers, President Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) and Ted Kennedy.

Biographer Laurence Leamer, who interviewed Lawford for his 1994 bestselling book "The Kennedy Women," said in a 2003 interview that Lawford "was known for being a very genteel soul and a good friend."

"As her older sister Eunice seemed to have been born with a sense of humanity, so Patricia appeared to have been blessed from birth with a natural grace and bearing," Leamer wrote in his book.

In the words of Nobel Prize-winning writer and social activist Pearl S. Buck, Pat Lawford was "the most attractive, the least dominating, the most yielding and gentle" of the Kennedy girls.

Growing up, Pat Kennedy didn't participate in the family's fabled competitiveness as much as her siblings, according to Leamer, who wrote: "She was a graceful creature on the tennis court, or sailing a boat with great natural ability, but she didn't care if she won or lost, not the way Eunice, Jack and Joe Jr. cared."

The sixth of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's nine children -- four boys and five girls -- Patricia was born May 6, 1924, in Brookline, Mass., a wealthy suburb of Boston.

During Joseph P. Kennedy's stint as U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1937 to 1940, Lawford and sisters Eunice and Jean attended the Sacred Heart convent, an exclusive boarding school on the outskirts of London.

After the family returned to the United States, she studied at Maplehurst, a Sacred Heart school on a former estate on the fringes of the Bronx and only 15 minutes from home in a chauffeur-driven car from the Kennedy mansion in Bronxville, N.Y.

As a teenager, Leamer wrote, "Pat was a tall, lanky, sweetly tempered young woman of striking good looks bound to have her full share of male admirers."

She attended Rosemont College, a small Catholic women's school in Rosemont, Pa., where she became the school tennis champion and graduated in 1945.

Leamer told The Times that Pat Kennedy had "the best athletic potential" of all the Kennedys. "She was a terrific golfer," he said. "Some think she could have been a professional women's golfer; that's how good she was."

In 1949, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a production assistant on singer Kate Smith's radio program. She later was a producer on Father Patrick Peyton's "Family Rosary Crusade," which coined the household phrase, "The family that prays together stays together."

As a member of one of America's wealthiest families, Pat Kennedy didn't need to work. Thanks to trust funds Joe Kennedy had established for his children, she reportedly had a personal fortune of $10 million by her 30th birthday.

During John Kennedy's 1946 run for Congress, she joined her sisters to work in their brother's campaign office during the day and accompany him to meet-the-candidate house parties in the evening.

She was living in Manhattan in November 1953 when she ran into Peter Lawford, a British-born actor whom she had met several times before. Although the debonair Lawford had been one of Pat Kennedy's favorite film stars in the 1940s -- someone she deemed "divine" at the time -- nothing had come of their previous encounters.

But this time they began seeing each other; after only two months, they were engaged.

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