The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 
By JOHN ROCHE
PETER MICHAELIS PHOTO

Mary Richardson Kennedy’s casket is surrounded by family, friends, neighbors and other loved ones who packed into St. Patrick’s Church in Bedford Village for a funeral Mass on Saturday, May 19.

 

The funeral Mass, wake and memorial service for Mary Richardson Kennedy last week captured the dichotomy at work in the days following her apparent suicide on May 16, according to one of her longtime friends.

“On the outside and in most of the media portrayals, there was this family feud going on, this infighting and all this talk about her dark and troubled life,” said Katonah resident Peter Michaelis, whose friendship with Ms. Kennedy dates back nearly 40 years. “But inside the wake at their home in Bedford, at the funeral on Saturday morning at St. Patrick’s Church, and at the Richardson family’s memorial service in Manhattan on Monday night, the talk was about what an incredible light Mary was, and each of the services were very loving tributes and fitting remembrances of her life.”

Within hours of Ms. Kennedy’s body being discovered last Wednesday afternoon, two different realities sprang from the tragedy: the public picture of what many Bedford residents described as a media circus surrounding her death at age 52, and a very private, personal period of mourning for her family, friends and neighbors, in Bedford and beyond.

“Regardless of what the press was saying, what I saw at each of the three services was a tremendous outpouring of love for Mary,” said Mr. Michaelis, a former television journalist who became friends with Ms. Kennedy when they were teens in the Washington, D.C., area. “To a person, everyone spoke about what an incredibly giving friend Mary always was, how much family and friends meant to her, and how deeply she’ll be missed. And I think that was very different than what was depicted in most of the media.”

Numerous local and national TV, radio and newspaper reports focused on a rift between her estranged husband, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and her siblings over where she would be buried, the future of the couple’s Bedford home and other issues. That battle reportedly landed both sides of Ms. Kennedy’s family in court on May 18 just hours before a wake was held in the home at 326 South Bedford Road that she, her husband and their four children shared until Mr. Kennedy filed for divorce in May 2010.

“I certainly read, heard and saw a lot of news stories about the fighting between her family and Bobby, but there wasn’t any glaring sign of that at the wake, funeral or the memorial service in the city,” said Mr. Michaelis, who also attended Brown University with Ms. Kennedy. “Mary was a very kind and loving person, and although her death was shocking and tragic, each of the memorials for her were very touching tributes to all the love and good she brought into the world and into so many of our lives.”

“Like millions of Americans, Mary suffered from depression,” said her sister-in-law, Kerry Kennedy, in a tribute she titled “Ode to My Best Friend. “She had it for as long as I knew her, and as it reared up in high school, college and beyond, she fought it back, for a day, a week, a month. These last six years or more, she fought it as hard as she knew how.
But that disease was not Mary herself. She was deeply Catholic, and she was an angel. And like the archangel Michael, who battled Satan when he tried to take over heaven, Mary fought back the demons who were trying to invade the paradise of her very being. She fought with everything she had.”

Kerry Kennedy said she met Mary on her first day at the Putney School in Vermont, when they were 15. “The next weekend we hitchhiked to Boston to see my siblings Michael, Bobby, David, Courtney and Kathleen, and for the rest of her life, she spent nearly every weekend and vacation with our family. We were roommates from the time we were 15 until 30, when I got married, and four years later she married my brother. When we moved back to New York, I moved a mile down the street in Mount Kisco, to be close to them.

“Mary was brilliant, strikingly beautiful,” wrote Kerry Kennedy. “In 1994 Mary married Bobby. I have never seen two people more thoroughly enchanted with one another and more completely in love. They brought out the best in one another, and spoke about each other with wonder and awe. And even at the most difficult times, they were still devoted to one another, compassionate, caring, concerned.

Mr. Michaelis said that many speakers at the services, in both formal remarks and in personal conversations, recalled how Ms. Kennedy gave so generously of her time and talents not only to those she cared about, but also to a slew of causes and organizations, both nationally and locally, including the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester. In addition to her environmental pursuits, she was particularly active in raising awareness about food allergies, co-founding the Food Allergy Initiative. The Kennedy family asked anyone wishing to make a donation in her memory do so to that nonprofit via www.faiusa.org.

Mr. Kennedy, an environmental attorney and the son of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 during his run for president, encouraged family and friends who turned out for the wake to tour the 8,515-square-foot house constructed of nearly all recycled materials that actually generates more energy than it uses. “Bobby said the home was really a monument to Mary and her work as a gifted architect and designer,” Mr. Michaelis said. “There was a lot of love in that house, and there was a lot of love in the room the night of her wake. And I think that extended the next day at her funeral, which included an extended group of family, friends and relatives.”

On the morning of Saturday, May 19, mourners packed into St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bedford Village for a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated by Monsignor George Thompson.

As loved ones remembered Ms. Kennedy’s life inside the stone church, a bevy of photographers and reporters covered the service from a staging area set up by the Bedford police for the press across the road on the Village Green. Celebrity friends of the couple including Glenn Close, Chevy Chase, Larry David, Dan Aykroyd, Susan Sarandon, John McEnroe, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edward James Olmos paid their respects alongside members of one of America’s most prominent families, local residents and friends who took part in the Mass. The couple’s four children were among the pallbearers.

On Monday, the Richardson family held a private memorial service at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan. Mr. Michaelis said he and many others attended each of the services without questioning why separate memorials were being held. “You don’t just go to a memorial service for the person who died, you also go for the family members,” Mr. Michaelis said. “That’s the sense that I got — that people went to support Mary’s family. The services all were focused on the incredible human being she was, and were opportunities to share in the grief that everyone who knew Mary is going through, above all her family.”

Her siblings released a statement last week through attorney Kerry Lawrence. “While we would naturally prefer to remain private at this very upsetting time, we feel compelled to make this statement because the description of Mary carried by certain news organizations since her passing is wholly inconsistent with the sister we knew and the life she, in fact, lived,” the statement read. “We loved Mary and knew her to be an exceptional mother, sibling and friend to many. Countless people have described her as an extraordinary mother, selfless in her desire to help others, and one of the finest people in the world. We know her as all those things, and more. She was generous, thoughtful, with a refined aesthetic, genius organizational abilities, boundless energy, physical stamina, and natural elegance. She laughed a lot. Her enthusiasms were deep. She loved to connect people, with no self-interest, and with great intelligence.”

Her siblings also asked the media for privacy as they continued “processing Mary’s tragic death, and to fully understand all the circumstances around it.”

The Richardsons’ statement continued, “The first task is for Mary’s family to take her to her final resting place, with the dignity and love she deserves. There will be plenty of time to correct all the inaccuracies and misrepresentations we are seeing in the media. Thank you for your understanding.”


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

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MAy 25, 2012

Mary Kennedy funeral Mass fills St. Patrick’s Church