Joe Kennedy III
Remarks in Memory of Robert F. Kennedy
Arlington National Cemetery
June 6, 2018
Empathy – for those striving and struggling. Indignation –– that the wealthiest country on earth would leave children hungry, sick, abandoned and alone. Compassion – for the least among us. Faith – that our nation and our world are capable of better.
Countless words have been used to remember my grandfather.
Poetry has been written about the work he did and the life he lived. But for a man who loved language, it is the images that tell his story best.
The caress of a child’s face in a shotgun house in the Mississippi Delta. His hand on the shoulder of a coal miner in Eastern Kentucky. A small piece of bread shared with Cesar Chavez in the dusty fields of Delano.
Images of a father, son, brother, husband and uncle. Of a family house adorned to this day with photos of loved ones – graduations and weddings, grandkids and great-grandkids, his brood ever- growing, his love ever-enduring. Of his extraordinary wife and partner, who fifty years after his passing, still wears her wedding ring. Of a family that still strives every day to make him proud.
Those images accumulate here today. Of Dolores Huerta, his kindred Chicana spirit. Of John Lewis, a brother and a mentor. Of Emma Gonzalez and our army of young activists, such fearless stewards of the future my grandfather imagined and summoned us to.
For Robert F. Kennedy this was the measure of a life well lived. People. Human connection. The touch, the look, the moment between strangers or friends where we leave ego and expectation aside and acknowledge the other’s worth and wisdom. We pause and see each other. We look past color or creed or class and recognize a humanity we share – our imperfections. Our contradictions. Our hope for something. For a truer and kinder tomorrow.
That humanity anchored my grandfather. It carried him from the fields of farm laborers to the hollows of Appalachia, from the sprawling reservations of Indian Country to the tenements of Bed-Stuy.
Where, in the shadows, in the background, in the quiet spaces that rarely sought or got attention, Robert Kennedy found the arteries of the American heart.
And he said to those forgotten: Your country sees you. Your country values you. America would not be America without you.
He held their hands. He knelt by their side. He shared their sorrows and lifted their spirits.
He wasn’t radical or revolutionary. He was human – willing to be vulnerable. It was his greatest gift to give. He felt so intensely the suffering of others and from that pain arose the moral force to relieve it. He saw their dreams and dared to ask “Why not?”
Today we also remember a father who delighted in the laughter of his children, long walks with his dogs, football with his family, and the smile of his wife. We celebrate a leader who saw potential in every child and fought for a government that did the same. And we recommit ourselves to his higher calling – the very thing at stake today -- a country that accepts you as you are.
25 years ago, a friend of our family stood on this very spot and recalled the journey of my grandfather. Just six months into his term, President Bill Clinton eloquently recalled a man
who “went to places most leaders never visit and listened to people most leaders never hear and spoke simple truth most leaders never speak.”
Most of all, President Clinton implored us to remember “the...powerful, beautiful lesson, the simple faith of Robert Kennedy: We can do better.”
It is my honor to introduce him here once again – President Bill Clinton.