By Stephanie Kutner
The estranged wife of Robert Kennedy (the son of assassinated U.S. senator and Attorney General Robert Kennedy), Mary Kennedy (née Mary Richardson), was found dead in her home in Mount Kisco, New York this Wednesday. The Westchester County medical examiner subsequently concluded her cause of death to be asphyxiation due to hanging. In 2010, Robert Kennedy filed for divorce from Mary. He has since been linked to Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Cheryl Hines. Robert and Mary, who married in 1994, had four children together: Conor Richardson (b. 1994), Kyra LeMoyne (b. 1995), William Finbar (b. 1997) and Aiden Caohman Vieques (b. 2001). The architect was fifty-two years old when she took her life in the barn located at her Bedford home.
The Associated Press stated Friday that “the two sides of Mary Richardson Kennedy’s grieving family faced off in court today over custody of her body just hours before she was mourned at a wake at the estate where she committed suicide.” Mary had struggled for years with depression and alcoholism. At the time of her deat she was in debt upwards of $30,000 dollars.
Despite her personal struggles, she was known to all as a great philanthropist and environmentalist. Though the duality of her life may strike some as surprising, it is in my humble opinion somewhat textbook. She was active for years in the Boys and Girls Club, she co-founded the Food Allergy Initiative, billed as the world’s largest private source of funding for food allergy research, and her architectural work even advocated environmentally responsible building designs.
I believe that the correlation can be made between personal struggle and profound empathy. Though not a blood relation, Mary’s death is yet another tragedy linked to the borderline mythic saga of the Kennedy Curse.
“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 yesterday is wholly inconsistent with the sister we knew and the life she, in fact, lived,” Mary Kennedy’s family said. “We loved Mary and knew her to be an exceptional mother, sibling and friend to many,” the message continued. “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.”
The Kennedy family publicist announced that Kerry Kennedy, Robert Kennedy Jr.’s sister and Mary Kennedy’s childhood friend, will make remarks at St. Patrick’s Church in Bedford, NY at 5 p.m. on Friday with funeral services set for the church on Saturday.
I think it’s natural for people to have a panglossian reaction to a person’s life after it ends and that this is even more true if the person who died was even remotely linked to fame. Mary Kennedy’s death, the details of her flawed but generous life, caused me to reflect on certain unsettling questions. Who am I to say which is right: whitewashing someone’s life or poring over every lurid detail of it? Either way is a form of coping, and who can pass judgment on how we choose to deal with something that is ultimately irreconcilable to us?