A Legacy of Leadership: Learning from the Kennedy Family's Lessons on Public Service

By Anderson, Amy | Success, December 2009 | Go to article overview

A Legacy of Leadership: Learning from the Kennedy Family's Lessons on Public Service


Anderson, Amy, Success


The Kennedy family has been called American royalty. Their story has become legend, and their history, full, of tragedy and triumph, has been a lesson in public service for generations. Because, no matter what you may think of politicians, many who serve in public office do so out of a desire to serve their fellow man. With the recent passing of Ted Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, we pause to reflect on the Kennedy legacy of service.

"[He] held up standards for us, and he was very tough when we failed to meet those standards. The toughness was important."--John F. Kennedy, about his father

Joseph Patrick Kennedy (1888-1969), the patriarch of the storied Kennedy clan, was a man of ambition and, ultimately, great wealth. He made his start as a banker and made money in the stock market, getting out before the 1929 crash. He married Rose Fitzgerald, the Boston mayor's daughter, and the couple had nine children.

Joseph's business acumen in a variety of industries helped him amass a fortune over his lifetime, but politics was his true passion. He chaired the Securities and Exchange Commission, was chair of the Maritime Commission, and, in 1937, was appointed ambassador to Great Britain. However, he eventually recognized that his political ambitions would be fulfilled by his sons and not himself. He threw his financial and personal backing behind them, expecting excellence on all fronts and instilling in the siblings a fierce competitive spirit.

"The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities. Whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated."--John F. Kennedy

When his older brother Joe Jr. was killed in World War II, John (called Jack) assumed the Kennedy political mantle. Despite his fathers support, Jack struggled behind the scenes with chronic back pain and suffered from Addison's disease, which compromises the immune system. He was given last rites three times before his 40th birthday. But he never let these physical challenges best him, and while in the Navy, he requested a more active duty than his original assignment, which led him to command a patrol boat in the Pacific and win medals for bravery.

Thanks to financial backing from his father and the political legacy of both his paternal and maternal grandparents. Jack won a 1946 Massachusetts House seat. He served three terms and then won a Senate race in 1952.

Kennedy used his assets--his youth, charm and good looks--to his advantage by campaigning for the presidency in 1960 against Vice President Richard Nixon on the latest medium; television. When he won, he established domestic policies in line with his philosophy of expanded democratic benefits for all citizens, including long-awaited civil-rights legislation. He also opened the opportunity of service up to the public by establishing the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, his work was cut short when he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence."--Robert F. Kennedy

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Having run his brother's Senate and presidential campaigns, Robert (called Bobby) was also his brother's most trusted advisor in the White House, serving as attorney general. His strong support of civil rights and his position in the White House allowed him to provide U. …

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