For decades, the Kennedys kept quiet about Rosemary, JFK’s younger sister, who was born with mental disabilities and whose botched lobotomy saw her sent away to an institution for life. But, Rosemary’s nephew Timothy Shriver has opened up about the family’s secret – and his memories of his aunt being able to speak just a handful of words before her death in 2005.
When Rosemary Kennedy, the daughter of Joe P. Kennedy and Rose, died quietly in 2005 at 86, she was surrounded by her remaining siblings: Eunice, Pat, Jean, and Ted. While they had spent time with Rosemary in the later years of her life, the two-decade period after her 1941 lobotomy when her siblings didn’t see her or know where she was – has long remained a mystery.
In a book about his work with disabled athletes, ‘Fully Alive’, he has detailed the family’s relationship with his aunt Rosemary, who was the family’s driving force behind helping others. He reveals how her father, Joe, went ahead with the lobotomy behind his family’s back, and how, ‘shattered by the results of his decision’, he refused to visit her for the rest of his life.
Distinguished family: Rosemary Kennedy, sitting second from right, was born with mental disabilities and underwent a lobotomy aged 23 before vanishing into obscurity. She is pictured in the 1930s with her family, L-R, Joseph Jr, Robert, Edward, John, Joseph Sr, Rose, Eunice, Jean, Patricia, Rosemary, and Kathleen
Stepping out: Rosemary, then 19, is pictured right with her mother Rose and sister Kathleen in May 1938, when they were presented at Court. She underwent the botched lobotomy three years later
Rosemary’s family speculated that her disabilities were due to oxygen deprivation when she was born and they tried their hardest to keep them a secret – sending her to the same school as her siblings and including her in their hobbies, according to excerpts of the book in People magazine.
‘They tried to hide Rosemary’s condition from their friends, and even from Rosemary herself,’ Shriver, 55, wrote. ‘But the code of silence led Rosemary to become confused and frustrated when she could not keep up.’
After moving to England with her father’s job as ambassador to Great Britain, and initially enjoying the praise that followed her society debut, Rosemary quickly became angry and violent.