If London gave Rose her best years, it also presented her with her biggest dilemma as a mother when her daughter Kathleen fell for a Protestant aristocrat. Kathleen would defy her mother not once, but twice, over love.
A rebel, a rift Kathleen Kennedy’s siblings called her Kick when they were young, Rose noted, because they could not pronounce Kathleen. The nickname stuck.
In notes for her autobiography, Rose said Kick took after her most among her children. They had an uncanny resemblance, and Kathleen loved foreign travel and studied abroad in France, as Rose did.
Once, when the family was living in London, someone approached the then 18-year-old Kick at the embassy and mistook her for Rose. Kick thought it funny; Rose thought it flattering.
But Kick’s sense of adventure went beyond her mother’s love of travel. Mother and daughter clashed at times, as when the Duke of Kent casually mentioned seeing Kick at a London nightclub, for behavior deemed inappropriate, sometimes over Kick’s idealistic streak.
"When I told her about the high standard we had in the United States she immediately rejoined with the sentence ‘but that in having this high standard of living for a few people, we have trodden a lot of others under foot in this country and in other countries,’ " Rose wrote.
Rose frequently, and unconvincingly, described her family as “ordinary,” particularly when compared to the Vanderbilts and other rich people she met on trans-Atlantic cruises. Her epiphany on race during a 1941 visit to a school in Barbados suggested Rose’s social conscience was still a work in progress.
"Happened to stop and interrupt a class of the smaller ones just as they were saying their prayers," she wrote in her diary, "and I have seldom been so moved; to see that group of dark skinned, little faced, with those immense, trustful, gentle brown eyes raised in prayer, convinced me for all time that there must be angels with dark faces as well as light ones, although I had never thought of them before."
Rose tried to clip Kick’s wings early. Worried that Kick’s popularity with both boys and girls was getting in the way of studies, Rose shipped her off to a convent school in Greenwich, Conn., when she was just 13.
"She was happy there, I know," Rose wrote in some notes she made in 1962 after a visit to the school, Noroton. "But life presented so many problems for her later — Falling in love with Billy."
Billy was William Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, whom Kick met in England in 1938. Three years after her family moved back to the States in 1940, Kick moved back to England to work for the Red Cross, and to resume her romance. When Kick told her parents she wanted to marry Billy in 1944, Rose was vehemently opposed, citing the irreconcilability of Kick’s Catholic upbringing with Cavendish’s Protestant faith. But Rose’s 1962 reflections suggest she also had doubts about a marriage between a “strictly Irish American” clan and a British “aristocrat-reactionary.”
As Billy’s unit prepared to ship out for D-Day in 1944, Kick was willing to incur her mother’s disapproval and marry. Rose went to great lengths, enlisting Archbishop Francis Spellman and other Catholic prelates to try to talk her out of it. On notepaper from a Virginia resort, Rose detailed how she was “disturbed, horrified — heartbroken” at the prospect of Kick’s impending wedding. Rose saw it as a referendum on the Kennedys as role models.
"Everyone pointed to our family with pride as well behaved — level headed & deeply religious. What a blow to the family prestige — no one seemed to be as excited about that as I," she wrote.
Rose’s notes, however, suggest she believed her husband was just as determined to nix the wedding. In fact, father and daughter were exchanging confidential letters. In one, Joe gave Kick his blessing, writing, “You are still and always will be tops with me.”
Rose stayed away from the civil ceremony, and wrote little about it. Within four months, both Joe Jr. and Billy Cavendish would die in action.
Three days after the wedding, Kick sent Rose a letter, saying the theological objections to her marriage would pass with time, and absolving her mother.
"Please don’t take any responsibility for an action, which you think bad (and I do not). You did everything in your power to stop it. You did your duty as a Roman Catholic mother," Kick wrote.
Rose’s diary indicates she remained in bed, heartsick over Kick’s marriage, until weeks later, when Spellman told Joe to tell her she was being too hard on herself. Spellman’s absolution roused her. Nearly two months after the wedding, Rose finally wrote Kick to say, “as long as you love Billy so dearly, you may be sure that we will all receive him with open arms.”
Four years later, Kick pushed her mother’s tolerance even further, falling in love with Peter Fitzwilliam, an Anglo-Irish member of the House of Lords, who was not only Protestant but married and separated. Rose opposed the relationship, and Kick, as she had before, turned to her father, seeking his blessing. She and Fitzwilliam were preparing to meet Joe in Paris when their plane went down in bad weather in France, killing them and two crew members.
If the estrangement between her and Kick bothered Rose greatly, she did not mention that in her private writings. Her description in her autobiography of her daughter dying while “flying in a plane with a few friends to Paris” was beyond discreet.
But, over the years, Kick’s memory seemed to soften Rose’s views. She wrote often about Kick’s magnetic personality and re-read her letters.
"Her early letters seemed so warm and affectionate, perhaps more so than those of the other children," Rose wrote in 1972.
Asked by her ghostwriter in 1972 about her current attitudes about mixed marriage or marrying after a divorce, she replied: “I wouldn’t make a judgment.”