Throwback Thursday: The Kennedy Matriarch Passes Away

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy died 20 years ago today.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

On this day, 20 years ago, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy passed away at 104 years old. Daughter of a Boston mayor, and mother to a president and two senators, she was an enormous figure in this state’s politics. Her passing was big news indeed, a moment to reflect on the woman whose children continue to loom large over the Bay State’s politics and history.

It was, of course, not all that unexpected at 104 years old. Kennedy died of complications from pneumonia. But until a stroke put her in a wheelchair years earlier, she had been known to go at things with gusto late into life, playing golf and going for swims in the ocean.

Her age and vitality almost served as a repudiation to the tragedies that took four of her children from her much earlier in life. (Two were assassinated, of course. And two died in plane crashes.) As she buried President John F. Kennedy, she told the Ethiopian emperor, “It’s wrong for parents to bury their children. It should be the other way around.” But, after Robert Kennedy died five years later, she said, “I just made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be vanquished by anything. If I collapsed, then it would have a very bad effect on the other members of the family.”

That attitude earned her a reputation as a family backbone and a large reason for the Kennedy family’s persistence in public life. Her greatest legacy, then, became apparent on that day 20 years ago at the very ends of her obituaries, where they listed the names of the five children that survived her, her 28 grandchildren, and her 41 great-grand children at the time. It was an enormous one.