A small plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. took off from Fairfield, New Jersey, at 8:38 p.m., Friday, July 16, 1999, heading toward the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. His wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren, were passengers. The plane was expected to complete the 200-mile trip about 10 p.m. but instead disappeared off the radar at 9:40 p.m.
Five days later, following a massive air and sea search, the bodies were recovered from the plane wreckage in 116 feet of water roughly 7 miles off Martha’s Vineyard. The next day, following an autopsy, the cremated remains of John F. Kennedy Jr., 38, his wife Carolyn, 33, and her sister Lauren, 34, were scattered at sea from the USS Destroyer Briscoe with family members present, not far from where the plane had crashed.
A private memorial Mass was held in New York City for John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn, on Friday, July 23, a week after their deaths. About 350 family members, friends and associates, including President Bill Clinton, were in attendance. This is the eulogy delivered during the Mass by John’s uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Thank you, President and Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea, for being here today. You’ve shown extraordinary kindness throughout the course of this week.
Once, when they asked John what he would do if he went into politics and was elected president, he said: “I guess the first thing is to call up Uncle Teddy and gloat.” I loved that. It was so like his father.
From the first day of his life, John seemed to belong not only to our family, but to the American family. The whole world knew his name before he did.
A famous photograph showed John racing across the lawn as his father landed in the White House helicopter and swept up John in his arms. When my brother saw that photo, he exclaimed, “Every mother in the United States is saying, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to see that love between a son and his father, the way that John races to be with his father?’ Little do they know, that son would have raced right by his father to get to that helicopter.”
But John was so much more than those long-ago images emblazoned in our minds. He was a boy who grew into a man with a zest for life and a love of adventure. He was a Pied Piper who brought us all along. He was blessed with a father and mother who never thought anything mattered more than their children.
When they left the White House, Jackie’s soft and gentle voice and unbreakable strength of spirit guided him surely and securely to the future. He had a legacy, and he learned to treasure it. He was part of a legend, and he learned to live with it. Above all, Jackie gave him a place to be himself, to grow up, to laugh and cry, to dream and strive on his own.
John learned that lesson well. He had amazing grace. He accepted who he was, but he cared more about what he could and should become. He saw things that could be lost in the glare of the spotlight. And he could laugh at the absurdity of too much pomp and circumstance.
He loved to travel across this city by subway, bicycle and Rollerblade. He lived as if he were unrecognisable, although he was known by everyone he encountered. He always introduced himself rather than take anything for granted. He drove his own car and flew his own plane, which is how he wanted it. He was king of his domain.
He thought politics should be an integral part of popular culture and that popular culture should be an integral part of politics. He transformed that belief into the creation of George. John shaped and honed a fresh, often irreverent journal. His new political magazine attracted a new generation, many of whom had never read about politics before.
John also brought to George a wit that was quick and sure. The premiere issue of George caused a stir with a cover photograph of Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington with a bare belly button. The “Reliable Source” column in The Washington Post printed a mock cover of George showing not Cindy Crawford, but me, dressed as George Washington with my belly button exposed. I suggested to John that perhaps I should have been the model for the first cover of his magazine. Without missing a beat, John told me that he stood by his original editorial decision.
John brought this same playful wit to other aspects of his life. He campaigned for me during my 1994 election and always created a stir when he arrived in Massachusetts. Before one of his trips to Boston, John told the campaign he was bringing along a companion, but would need only one hotel room.
Interested but discreet, a senior campaign worker picked John up at the airport and prepared to handle any media barrage that might accompany John’s arrival with his mystery companion. John landed with the companion, all right , an enormous German shepherd dog named Sam he had just rescued from the pound.
He loved to talk about the expression on the campaign worker’s face and the reaction of the clerk at the Charles Hotel when John and Sam checked in.
I think now not only of these wonderful adventures, but of the kind of person John was. He was the son who quietly gave extraordinary time and ideas to the Institute of Politics at Harvard that bears his father’s name. He brought to the institute his distinctive insight that politics could have a broader appeal, that it was not just about elections, but about the larger forces that shape our whole society.
John was also the son who was once protected by his mother. He went on to become her pride, and then her protector in her final days. He was the Kennedy who loved us all, but who especially cherished his sister, Caroline, celebrated her brilliance and took strength and joy from their lifelong mutual admiration society.
And for a thousand days, he was a husband who adored the wife who became his perfect soul mate. John’s father taught us all to reach for the moon and the stars. John did that in all he did, and he found his shining star when he married Carolyn Bessette.
How often our family will think of the two of them, cuddling affectionately on a boat, surrounded by family, aunts, uncles, Caroline and Ed and their children, Rose, Tatiana, and Jack, Kennedy cousins, Radziwill cousins, Shriver cousins, Smith cousins, Lawford cousins, as we sailed Nantucket Sound.
Then we would come home, and before dinner, on the lawn where his father had played, John would lead a spirited game of touch football. And his beautiful young wife, the new pride of the Kennedys, would cheer for John’s team and delight her nieces and nephews with her somersaults.
We loved Carolyn. She and her sister, Lauren, were young, extraordinary women of high accomplishment, and their own limitless possibilities. We mourn their loss and honor their lives. The Bessette and Freeman families will always be part of ours.
John was a serious man who brightened our lives with his smile and his grace. He was a son of privilege who founded a program called Reaching Up to train better caregivers for the mentally disabled.
He joined Wall Street executives on the Robin Hood Foundation to help the city’s impoverished children. And he did it all so quietly, without ever calling attention to himself.
John was one of Jackie’s two miracles. He was still becoming the person he would be, and doing it by the beat of his own drummer. He had only just begun. There was in him a great promise of things to come.
The Irish ambassador recited a poem to John’s father and mother soon after John was born. I can hear it again now, at this different and difficult moment:
‘We wish to the new child,
A heart that can be beguiled,
By a flower,
That the wind lifts,
As it passes.
If the storms break for him,
May the trees shake for him,
Their blossoms down.
In the night that he is troubled,
May a friend wake for him,
So that his time may be doubled,
And at the end of all loving and love
May the Man above,
Give him a crown.’
We thank the millions who have rained blossoms down on John’s memory. He and his bride have gone to be with his mother and father, where there will never be an end to love. He was lost on that troubled night, but we will always wake for him, so that his time, which was not doubled, but cut in half, will live forever in our memory, and in our beguiled and broken hearts.
We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.
We who have loved him from the day he was born, and watched the remarkable man he became, now bid him farewell.
God bless you, John and Carolyn. We love you and we always will.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy – July 23, 1999.