Keeping up service to country

Like their parents before them, many of the so-called fourth generation of the Kennedy family are public servants, attorneys, authors and activists. They, too, have suffered addiction, divorce and untimely ends.

With the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the family patriarch, public attention has naturally turned to the next generation of the family many liken to American royalty. The question on many minds: Will the Kennedys ever produce another political giant?

It may not, however, be a question the Kennedys are asking themselves.

"I think that the great thing for the fourth generation in an odd way is that the pressure is off," said Gerald Posner, author of a book about the assassination of President Kennedy. "The burden is gone from them, they don't have an obligation to get to the White House."

Still, the Kennedy dynasty continues "in a way the public largely doesn't realize. Ten people on the street might know Maria Shriver before they would know the accomplishments of Robert Kennedy Jr. or even Patrick Kennedy."

Shriver, 53, is California's first lady and a former television newswoman. Her mother was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister to JFK and RFK and Teddy. (Her brother Bobby Shriver, 55, is a Santa Monica city councilman. Another brother, Timothy Shriver, is chairman of the Special Olympics, which was founded by their mother.)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 55, who once pleaded guilty to heroin possession, is among the country's foremost environmental attorneys and activists, while Patrick Kennedy, 42, the youngest of Edward Kennedy's three children, is an eight-term congressman from Rhode Island who has made healthcare his signature issue.

In all, there were 31 children in this generation -- 26 of whom survive. Its most famous member is JFK's daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, 51, who had hoped to be appointed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's successor but withdrew amid a torrent of criticism that she was ill prepared for the spotlight. Her younger brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., died in a plane crash in 1999, when he was 38.

The eldest of Bobby Kennedy's 11 children, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 58, suffered an embarrassing loss when she ran for governor in 2002, the first Democrat to lose in 40 years.

One of her brothers, Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, 56, is a former Massachusetts congressman whose name has been mentioned as a possible appointee to the Senate seat left vacant by Edward Kennedy's death.

Another of RFK's children, Christopher Kennedy, 46, CEO of Chicago's Merchandise Mart, was to run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois next year but bowed out last week.

"I realized that I would rather be a good husband and a good father," he said, "rather than a good Washington politician."

Rory Kennedy, at 40 the youngest of RFK's children, is an award-winning filmmaker whose most recent documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," explored the U.S. military's prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

The younger Kennedys may not have reached the political heights of their fathers and uncles, said Posner, but their contributions are undeniable.

"They've had instilled in them an idea of public service," he said. "They champion the causes of the most disadvantaged and the poorest."


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