Will Kathleen Be Next Kennedy in the White House?; BOBBY'S GIRL TIPPED FOR PRESIDENT

Article excerpt

KATHLEEN Townsend has known tragedy all her life - her father and uncle were murdered, her brother died from an overdose and a cousin died in an air crash just last year.

Yet in spite of her heartache, the brunette is tipped to be the first female US president.

Today, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the highly effective Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and is almost certain to become the next Governor in 2002.

Earlier this year, she was tipped to become Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate.

But she wasn't ready and refused at the last minute, claiming there was too much unfinished business in Maryland which had to be dealt with.

"She said: "I think it's very important, given my family's history, to do the best I can with the days I have."

Kathleen is the eldest of Robert Kennedy's 11 children.

She was just 16 when her father was shot dead in 1968.

But even as a child, Kathleen was encouraged to adopt her father's heavy sense of public duty and family loyalty.

Just two days after her uncle JFK was assassinated in 1963, Bobby Kennedy wrote to his then nine-year-old daughter on White House-headed note paper.

"The letter read: "Dear Kathleen,"you seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the Kennedy grandchildren, you have a responsibility now.. to be kind to others and work for your country, Love Daddy.""

The letter - which also urged her to take care of her brother Joe and three-year-old cousin John Kennedy Jnr, who died last year - hangs in her home in the Baltimore suburb of Towson.

And now, almost 40 years later, Kathleen admits that the letter singled her out for a life a public service.

She said: "Everybody wants to be special. Doesn't everyone want to make a contribution, doesn't everyone have a special purpose in life?"

Kathleen, 48, was the first woman in her glamourous and tragedy-dogged family to seek public office.

She has spent the last six years as Lt Governor in Maryland.

And while she has politics in her blood, her style is different.

She doesn't exude the glamour and high-life attitude which many people believe jinxed her relatives, ending in their untimely deaths.

In fact, Kathleen's reputation is lily-white. It is so lacking in controversy that she is known as "Clean Kathleen" or "The Nun, a nickname given to her by her brothers and sisters due to her religious aspirations as a teenager.

Kathleen defended brother Joe against critics that he had tried to bully his wife into an annulment of their 12-year marriage.

And in 1979, she went to court to become her brother David's legal guardian in a bid to rescue him from drug abuse. …