[Paleopsych] NYT Editorial: The Silent Kennedy

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The Silent Kennedy
NYT Editorial January 10, 2005

Rosemary Kennedy had a life of little achievement, by
Kennedy family standards or any other. She was a slow
learner as a girl, mildly retarded, and lost all hope of a
productive adulthood in 1941, when her father had her
lobotomized to cure her of volatile moods. She spent the
rest of her life in institutions and died last Friday at

It was a quiet exit. But even a silent life can have
profound echoes. Ms. Kennedy's did.

It began when her family acknowledged her existence. Her
brother John, as president, spoke openly of her. Eunice
Kennedy Shriver wrote about her sister in The Saturday
Evening Post in 1962. Advocates for the mentally disabled
say that candor was a turning point - a step toward
acceptance for millions of people who had been ignored,
warehoused or, like Ms. Kennedy, brutalized. If the
Kennedys could end their shamed silence, so could the

Mrs. Shriver went further. She founded the Special Olympics
in 1968, turning a backyard camp into an international
movement. She has said that her sister's life has no direct
link to her advocacy for the disabled. But her siblings
have pointed out that Eunice was always one who saw
Rosemary's potential, expected more from her and sought to
include her in family activities. These values have been
the soul of the Special Olympics for nearly 40 years.

Anyone who has seen a Special Olympics knows that it
remains a realm of good sportsmanship and joy. The
organization has grown global and slick, with corporate
sponsors and events like figure skating and power lifting,
but the athletes' incapacity for cynicism keeps things
pure. Think of the grim, medicated world of professional
sports, and you might wonder who the disabled ones really

That blurring of distinctions may be the finest legacy of
Rosemary Kennedy's thwarted life. As Mrs. Shriver once said
of the mentally disabled in a newspaper interview: "I
suppose the fact that I had seen my sister swim like a deer
in swimming races and do very, very well just always made
me think that they could do everything."


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