During two key elections in his political career, Sen. Edward Kennedy turned to his wife for help. In two cases 30 years apart, his first wife and then his second wife — opposites in personality and strengths — both rallied to his cause.
In 1964, when Kennedy spent months in the hospital recovering from a broken back, it was his first wife, Joan, then 28, who hit the campaign trail to push his re-election to the Senate. Kennedy had won the Massachusetts seat, once held by his older brother John, two years before in a special election.
In 1994, when Ted Kennedy's political career had crested short of the White House and his reputation was tarnished by years of hard living, another woman stood by him. Vicki Kennedy campaigned for the senator in a tough re-election fight against businessman Mitt Romney, in a strong anti-incumbent year.
To Vicki, politics has come so naturally that she has been spoken of as a possible successor to her husband. To Joan, political life came less easily — and at great personal cost.
The Kennedy wife
Ted Kennedy met Joan Bennett in 1957. She was a student of piano, a part-time model, and a college friend of his sister Jean. John Kennedy called her "the dish." Blond and stylish, she joined Ethel and Jackie as Kennedy wives: fashionable, attractive, pitching in on the Kennedy political agenda and publicly ignoring rumors of frequent infidelity on the part of their husbands.
"What she was up against with Ted Kennedy was not easy," says J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. The course of Joan and Ted Kennedy's 24-year marriage included the assassinations of his brothers John and Robert; the bone cancer of their son Edward Jr., then 12 years old; multiple miscarriages; rumors of Ted's philandering; and Joan's battle with alcoholism.
Throughout, Joan was open about her own demons: trying to fit in with the Kennedy clan, fearing for her husband's safety. She went to a psychiatrist when it was taboo in Washington, and admitted it. When she joined Alcoholics Anonymous, she revealed that, too.
"My personality was more shy and retiring," she said in her 1985 biography, Living with the Kennedys: The Joan Kennedy Story. "And so rather than get mad or ask questions concerning the rumors about Ted and his girlfriends, or really stand up for myself at all, it was easier for me to just go and have a few drinks and calm myself down as if I weren't hurt or angry."
Taraborrelli says Joan Kennedy is not to be criticized. "She's a woman to be admired," he says.
Joan had own struggles
In July 1969, on the way home from a party, the senator's car went off a bridge at Chappaquiddick on Martha's Vineyard, drowning Mary Jo Kopechne, a young woman who worked on his brother Robert's presidential campaign. Ted Kennedy, who did not contact the police until more than nine hours afterward, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.
It was an incident that irreparably damaged Kennedy's reputation, but in the manner of some political wives, Joan Kennedy stood by him and traveled with her husband to Pennsylvania for Kopechne's funeral. A month later, she suffered her third miscarriage.