Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Another Kennedy Tragedy

When you might have thought it was not possible that the Kennedy family could create another public spectacle, there now comes a new story that has uncharacteristic twists and intrigue.

Joan Kennedy, the former wife of Senator Ted, has had a very long and very public problem with alcoholism. She grew up in a family with alcoholic parents, and then had to endure the pressure of trying to "fit in" to a clan so rabidly insular and clannish that she was almost doomed to fail at the outset. No one could have been surprised that, once she had escaped the cloistered compound and began to find herself, she might have difficulties, and she did.

Several weeks ago, her children took the extraordinary step of petitioning the Barnstable County Probate Court to have them appointed her permanent guardians. While the Court records are under seal, the children had said enough in public statements to acknowledge (or allege) that they are doing so because of her illness.

I have wondered (perhaps because this occurred in the midst of the Schiavo ordeal) since reading these stories whether the guardianship they sought was for medical care or for all care, including financial affairs. Lacking any facts in the public domain, I had surmised (perhaps hoped) that they were taking this step only to attempt to have control over their mother's medical treatment.

Then this story hits both of Boston's dailies:

From the Boston Herald:

"The feud between Joan Kennedy and her children has taken a nasty turn as she tries to sell the family's lavish waterfront Cape Cod home, her son said.
'This is a sudden decision she's made,''
Edward M. Kennedy Jr. told the Herald. 'Basically, my mother is taking it out on us by trying to sell the house.'
The six-bedroom manse on Hyannisport's posh Squaw Island recently was put up for sale by Joan Kennedy for $6.4 million. It was the childhood home of Edward Kennedy Jr., U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and Kara Kennedy Allen, the three children of Joan Kennedy and her ex-husband, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). `This is just very upsetting to my brother and sister and I,' Kennedy said. `My mother is not happy with the court-ordered guardianship. But we're trying to save her life'....

...Joan Kennedy, 68, is reportedly fighting the court order and taking financial advice from a distant cousin, a source said. Edward M. Kennedy Jr. said her bid to sell the house ``speaks to the insidiousness of alcoholism.'' He said any sale would have to be cleared by her children, as guardians...

...The source said Joan Kennedy has become 'very uncooperative' with her court-ordered caretakers and has turned `nasty' in her fight with her children. `That's the house they grew up in and it's a house they love. It's a place they summer all the time,'' the source said. '"

There are a few things about this story that I find fascinating and disturbing. First, I find it fascinating that the the story was clearly initiated in the press by the children themselves. Teddy is quoted directly, speaking with a reporter (a Herald reporter, no less!), and it is quite apparent that the "unnamed source" is speaking for the children.

The Kennedys have never aired their (considerable) dirty laundry in public. They have remained very private and have always made measured comments in response to largely unwelcomed inquiries. Yet here, the children themselves are apparently initiating this public fight over whether their mother can sell her house (a house that the kids grew up in, but have not lived in for years and years) without their permission.

And the Globe story (front page of Metro section, below the fold!) clarifies the childrens' move:

"Joan Bennett Kennedy has put her oceanfront Cape Cod home on the market for nearly $6.5 million, defying her children who moved last year to take legal control of her assets amid her continued battle with alcoholism." So they do want to control her assets.

It seems to me that there is a great deal more here than meets the eye (having been in Masachusetts all my life, I have learned to think that way when it comes to this particular group of celebrities). While I don't doubt for one moment that the children love their mother and are trying to "save her life," I find their strident public objections suspicious and unseemly. It is their mother's house. If she does not want to own it any more, that is her business. If the children feel the house has so much intrinsic value to them, let them step up to the plate and buy it -- I wouldn't doubt for a moment that there are sufficient funds in the family-at-large to preserve this piece of their heritage.

But why would they so vehemently insist that she is defying them by selling the house, unless their ownership of the house (presently or in the future) was one of their primary interests in seeking guardianship?

This story is highly unusual, and there is much more to it. Let's see what the unnamed sources continue to peddle.

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