Kara Kennedy, the oldest of three children of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, was remembered at funeral services Wednesday as a thoughtful friend and devoted mother who had a mischievous side like her father.
During services at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, her brothers remembered her as an avid swimmer and someone who sent cards in the mail with newspaper clippings enclosed rather than emails with attachments. Her brother Patrick Kennedy said he pictured his sister and their father, who died in 2009, sailing off into “the starry skies together.”
“Dad now has his first mate, his crew right by his side, helping him along the way,” said Patrick Kennedy, who until recently served as a congressman from Rhode Island.
Patrick Kennedy said after her death that her cancer treatment left her physically weakened and that her heart gave out. The District of Columbia’s medical examiner has not yet released an official cause of death.
Soon after, in 1962, her father was elected to the Senate, taking the seat that his brother had occupied before winning the presidency. He served longer than all but three senators in history.
Though she never sought elected office herself, Kara Kennedy appeared with her father during his unsuccessful 1980 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and she and her brother Ted Kennedy Jr. helped run the senator’s re-election campaign in 1988.
Kara Kennedy’s responsibility during the 1988 campaign was media and messaging, Ted Kennedy Jr. remembered during Wednesday’s services. He said that when poll numbers tightened after Labor Day, others urged their father to “go negative,” but his sister disagreed.
“She implored dad to emphasize instead his primary strengths, which were his compassion and his willingness to fight for what he believed in, things that even his political opponents would agree with. She reminded him why he was in political life,” Ted Kennedy Jr. said.
In 2009, as her father was dying of brain cancer, Kara Kennedy accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf during a ceremony at the White House. Ted Kennedy died two weeks later at the age of 77 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. Kara Kennedy will be buried at a family plot in Holyhood Cemetery in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
A graduate of Tufts University, she was a board member for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate; director emerita and national trustee of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; and a national advisory board member for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She also worked as a filmmaker and television producer, including producing videos for Very Special Arts, an organization founded by her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith.
Her best friend Linda Donovan said at Wednesday’s service that she had many great stories about Kara, but none of them were appropriate to tell in church. She said her friend remembered details like “what you liked on your sandwich” as well as “what kind of sandwich your mother liked.” She sent funny and irreverent cards for all occasions from Halloween to Mother’s Day and had a particular penchant for cards featuring senior citizens and nuns.
Ted Kennedy Jr. said that when he was a child his sister for years used him “as a chair” when watching television and managed to get out of eating liver their parents required by flushing it down the toilet.
Despite growing up in a famous family, she wasn’t impressed by high-powered titles, her brother said.
“She was never interested or impressed by someone’s job title,” Ted Kennedy Jr. said. “What mattered to her were two things: your trustworthiness and your loyalty.”