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Bobby And Ethel's Brood: The Weight Of Legacy

By Adam Cohen

(TIME, Jan.12) -- In the golden years, at a dinner party for the Duchess of Devonshire, Ethel Kennedy slipped in a worldly addendum to the grace she said before the meal. "And please, dear God, make Bobby buy me a bigger dining-room table." It was an understandable plea from the mistress of Hickory Hill, the Robert Kennedy family's child-beswarmed antebellum homestead in McLean, Va. After Bobby's death, Ethel was left to raise a brood of 11. Today the nine surviving R.F.K. offspring form the largest single clan among the Kennedy third generation.

The eldest child, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 46, displayed so much moral earnestness that, in her youth, her brothers dubbed her "the Nun." Turning to politics, she was at first squeamish about trumpeting her maiden name and lost a 1986 congressional race in Maryland. But in 1994 she let it work its magic and became Lieutenant Governor. Holding such un-Kennedy-like stands as support for the death penalty, she is seen as a future candidate for Governor.

Joseph Kennedy II, 45, the eldest son, launched his public-service career founding Citizens Energy Corp., which provides heating fuel to Boston's poor. In 1986 he inherited the family's 8th Congressional District, which sent Uncle J.F.K. to Washington in 1946. Joe's planned run for Governor this year was derailed by the baby-sitter problems of his brother and campaign manager Michael. That scandal aggravated a political atmosphere already soured by Shattered Faith, his first wife's bitter best seller about the annulment of their 12-year marriage.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 43, bears not only his father's name but also, to an uncanny degree, his lanky and sensitive good looks. After being arrested in 1983 for heroin possession, Bobby did community service at the Natural Resources Defense Council, starting him off on a career as the green Kennedy. Today he teaches environmental law and is a lawyer with Riverkeeper, a conservation group based in New York's Hudson River Valley.

Courtney Kennedy Hill, 41, is a human-rights activist who did pediatric AIDS work for the U.N. In 1993 she married Paul Hill, who was jailed for 15 years for I.R.A. terrorism before a British court ruled his confession was fabricated. At 40, Courtney became the mother of Saoirse Roisin, Gaelic for "Freedom Rose."

Kerry Kennedy, 38, works for Amnesty International and the R.F.K. Center for Human Rights. In 1990 she wed former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's son Andrew, now Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Christopher Kennedy, 34, has bucked two second-generation Kennedy trends, becoming a businessman and a Midwesterner. Today he helps run the Merchandise Mart, the Kennedys' downtown-Chicago trade center started by grandfather Joe.

Max Kennedy, 32, a University of Virginia law school graduate, was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia for three years. Last fall he began business school at UCLA.

Douglas Kennedy, 30, has switched over to what some Kennedys must consider the Other Side. He is a New York City-based reporter for the Fox News Channel.

Youngest child Rory Kennedy, 29, is a documentary filmmaker in New York. She won awards for her film on pregnant drug addicts, Women of Substance. She is now working on a film about one of the causes most associated with her father: poor children in Appalachia.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: January 12, 1998

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