Ode to My Best Friend -- Mary Richardson Kennedy

Let's not remember Mary for her despair, but let's take inspiration from her determination to heal the woundedness in herself and in those she loved.
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I met Mary on her first day at Putney, we were 15. The next weekend we hitch hiked to Boston to see my siblings Michael, Bobby, David, Courtney and Kathleen, and for the rest of her life, she spent nearly every weekend and vacation with our family. We were roommates from the time we were 15 until 30, when I got married and four years later, she married my brother. When we moved back to New York, I moved a mile down the street in Mount Kisco, to be close to them.

We were inseparable -- we shared friendships, a closet, a cash card. People couldn't tell our voices apart.

Mary took great advantage of that when her mother called, and I would hear her say "Oh hello, Mrs. Richardson. I'm so sorry but Mary is in the library, studying hard. I will be happy to let her know you called."

Once we ran into her future brother-in-law, Andy Karsch, at Mortimer's and he said "I never see you two apart -- you are just schizophrenic." And we replied, in protest, at the exact same moment, "No, we're not!"

Mary was brilliant, strikingly beautiful, radiant, luminous, spiritual, funny, fun.

She was the smartest student at Putney. On the left side of her desk was all her work in a neat pile. On the right side, was the pile of papers from all the other kids, which she was correcting for spelling, grammar and syntax.

At any time there would be a handful of students waiting for when Mary might be free for a talk, but what they really wanted was a listen. Even as a teenager, Mary listened with compassion to all our adolescent pain and confusion, affirmed our feelings, and made us whole. She was like a beam of white light, penetrating into the darkness and chaos, calling on our better angels, imbued with absolute moral clarity, she paved the road ahead.

Our first semester at Brown she received her first failing grade, for plagiarizing. The professor admitted he didn't recognize the source, but he said he taught freshman for 30 years, and he didn't believe anyone could write like that. Undaunted, Mary simply asked for a new topic, wrote him a second essay on the spot, and accepted his apologies and her well-deserved A. She went on to get straight A's through both Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design, blessed as she was by genius on both the left and right sides of her brain.

When my brother Joe started Citizens Energy, Mary designed, wrote, and produced his first annual report, and designed the logo, which he still uses today. She was 17 at the time.

In 1986, she went to work on Joe's congressional campaign and brought some of her trademark mischievousness to the old Boston tradition of handing out coffee and doughnuts on Election Day. At that time, there was another Mary Richardson, the beloved local newscaster. Mary called all the restaurants in the district saying, "Hi, I'm Mary Richardson, and I'm helping Joe Kennedy's campaign. Would you like to donate something for Election Day?" So, when the other campaigns handed out lukewarm coffee and stale donuts, Citizens for Joe brought out a spread of sushi, pad thai, and lobster thermidor from Loch Ober's.

Mary was a master at securing donations for good causes and considered the challenge a contact sport. In the mid-1980s, the military had cut off supplies to the poorest regions of El Salvador, and she volunteered to help the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights put together a truck load of food, clothes and medical supplies for the Mothers of the Disappeared. I suggested she "start with that store that starts with 'The' and sells clothes," as the CEO had helped my mother years earlier. Mary called the CEO, and when his assistant said he was off on an island vacation and unavailable, Mary explained that he was a dear friend and always incredibly generous and we needed the supplies right away. An hour later, Mary proudly reported she had secured 6 truck loads from The Limited, to which I responded, "Oh, we know the guy from The Gap!"

Thanks to Mary, the CoMadres ended up with 10 containers filled with tens of millions in food, clothes and medical supplies.

In 1977, Bobby, Michael, David and I, along with 21 friends, rafted the first ascent down the Rio Attrato in Colombia. As we started out, the local people told us there was a waterfall downstream, and we would all be killed. As the first night began to fall, we were increasingly anxious that we hadn't found a campground, as we were in the midst of a rainforest, and the jungle on either side of the river was impenetrable. Miraculously, just as dusk settled, we came upon a pristine island, with not a twig in sight. Thoroughly exhausted, we fell sound asleep. At 4 a.m., Bobby woke us. Apparently the island had nothing growing on it because it was a sandbar, the river was rising, and every piece of clothing of every rafter was soaked. The only person who had dry clothes was Mary. Always prepared, she had packed her belongings in neat little Ziploc bags. She gave away every last piece of her dry clothes, and wore the wet clothes herself.

In 1980, Mary spent the semester working for Andy Warhol. Teddy (Senator Edward Kennedy) was running for president, and someone came up with the idea of Artists for Kennedy. Mary immediately asked Warhol for a lithograph and his rolodex. She proceeded to secure donations from Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Schnabel and everyone else who walked through the doors of the Factory. At 20 years old, she raised millions.

Mary was a designer for Parish Hadley, a rafting guide on the Kennebec and the Dead, she could build a campfire and on it cook a gourmet meal for 100, throw on a pot, weave a blanket, knit a hat, plumb a john, sponge paint a ceiling, and have a successful run as part of a girl group of go-go dancers in the cages at Studio 54.

In 1994 Mary married Bobby. I have never seen two people more thoroughly enchanted with one another and more completely in love. They brought out the best in one another, and spoke about each other with wonder and awe. And even at the most difficult times, they were still devoted to one another, compassionate, caring, concerned.

They had four fabulous children, to whom Mary was absolutely devoted. She took parenting classes to be a better mother, and then she started teaching parenting classes herself.

Conor was her prince and white knight. She brought him to the emergency room two dozen times in his first few years because he suffered from food allergies, and she co-founded and raised millions for the Food Allergy Initiative in order to protect him and other children. She was endlessly proud of his accomplishments, most recently telling me to be sure to hear him recite Ulysses by heart -- and she was beaming two weeks ago visiting him on parents weekend.

On Monday night we had a long talk about Kyra -- about Kyra's school and Kyra's summer plans. Mary said Kyra was excited about going to Los Angeles to visit her friend Romy and Mary wanted to be sure Kyra had time with Chessy and her other Hyannis Port cousins.

Mary loved Finn's athleticism and his toughness. He could do no wrong, and she delighted in telling how he was arrested by the Canadian Mounties for riding the luggage carousel.

Mary doted on Aidan. There was nothing she wouldn't do for him. For Colonial Day at his school, she drove eleven hours to the Northern Kingdom of Vermont to fetch baby chickens, bunny rabbits and old pitch forks from her family barn, to create a more authentic experience for Aidan and his classmates.

Like millions of Americans, Mary suffered from depression. She had it for as long as I knew her, and as it reared up in high school, college and beyond, she fought it back, for a day, a week, a month. These last 6 years or more, she fought it as hard as she knew how.

But that disease was not Mary herself. She was deeply Catholic, and she was an angel. And like the archangel Michael, who battled Satan when he tried to take over Heaven, Mary fought back the demons who were trying to invade the Paradise of her very being. She fought with everything she had. And I think God said to her, "Mary, you have been my warrior on the front lines for too long, you have fought valiantly, and now I am bringing you home."

Let's not forget they were only demons, not Mary herself, and it's everything else about Mary that is important, and for me, will abide. She was an angel, a gift from the Heavens. So let's not remember her for her despair, but let's take inspiration from her determination to heal the woundedness in herself and in those she loved.

And let's live our lives, remembering hers, with tenderness towards one another and affirmation for our feelings, and go forth with compassion, exhilaration, laughter and joy.

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