Victoria Reggie Kennedy was by her husband’s side when he was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital 12 days ago after suffering a seizure.
This past weekend, she joined him in a sailing regatta despite his diagnosis of brain cancer.
Edward M. Kennedy’s latest trial has shown a spotlight not just on him, but on his partner of 16 years, by all accounts a redemptive force in his life - and reportedly his choice to take his Senate seat should he be unable to complete his term.
The 76-year-old senator has given no indication he plans to resign as he seeks treatment for a malignant brain tumor. But even prior to his health crisis, he had trumpeted his wife ‘Vicki,’ who is 22 years his junior, as his choice to continue the Kennedys’ 50-plus-year tradition in the U.S. Senate, according to several reports.
“There’s no question that he’d like Vicki to continue in his seat,” one unnamed Massachusetts Democrat told the New York Daily News, based on a conversation with Kennedy before the cancer diagnosis. “She’s smart, and smart politically.”
Vicki Kennedy, a former Washington attorney specializing in banking, has never held elected office, but she comes from a politically prominent family which has been close to the Kennedys for decades.
She has been outspoken, especially on gun control issues, as president and co-founder of Common Sense about Kids and Guns, which promotes awareness about gun deaths and injuries to children; she is also a trustee of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; and a lecturer on gun violence prevention and student involvement in their communities at the American University Washington Semester Program. In addition, she is a trustee of the Maret School in Washington, D.C., a select private school for children in grades K-12.
Members of the Reggie and Kennedy clans first met at the Democratic National Convention in 1956, when Vicki Kennedy’s father, Edmund Reggie, a judge and banker from the small, rice-growing town of Crowley, La., swung the Louisiana delegation to support John Kennedy for vice president.
Judge Reggie, who would later become a kingmaker in Louisiana Democratic politics, managed the presidential campaigns in Louisiana for John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and, in 1980, Ted Kennedy. His purchase of a summer house on Nantucket in 1982 further cemented ties between the two families.
He became the confidante of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, and took advantage of legislative scholarships targeted at needy students to send all six of his children, including Vicki, to Tulane University tuition free, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in 1995.
Reggie told the paper he had done nothing wrong.
“It was a perfectly legal thing to do, so I availed myself of it,” he said then.
(The scholarships’ other beneficiaries have included the children of former Senators John B. Breaux and J. Bennett Johnston, both Democrats, as well as Representatives Jimmy Hayes, a Democrat, Robert L. Livingston and Richard H. Baker, Republicans.)
In 1992, Judge Reggie was also convicted of defrauding a failed savings and loan in federal district court in Louisiana, and sentenced to 120 days of home detention and fined $30,000.
It was through the families’ connections that Edward M. Kennedy first got to know Victoria, when she invited him to a 40th wedding anniversary party for her parents in Washington in 1991. “He hung out in the kitchen while I cooked,” she told the New York Times, “and he helped me pick vegetables off the vine for the salad.”
At that point, they both had children from previous marriages, in her case, two young children from her marriage to Grier Raclin. She told the Times she was impressed at how solicitous Kennedy was of her children.
“We were going out a lot, and Ted knew I was concerned about spending time away from my children,” she said. “So one day he very politely said, ‘Maybe I’ll come over to your place for dinner.’ ”
“That started a wonderful thing,” she said. “I love to cook, and everyone would gather round in the kitchen, and Ted would help Caroline or Curran with their school work.”
He proposed to her at a performance of “La Boheme,” and they were married in 1992, a year after Kennedy had had to testify at the Palm Beach, Fla., rape trial of his nephew, William K. Smith, and was criticized for his performance in the Senate showdown between Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee, and Anita F. Hill.
“I had not ever really intended to get married again,” he told the Times. “The people who had been closest to me over the course of my life had disappeared, with that enormous amount of emotion and feeling and love. I thought I probably wouldn’t want to go through that kind of experience again.”
His first marriage, to Joan Bennett Kennedy, had ended in divorce in 1982, amid allegations of womanizing on his part and alcoholism on hers. They had three children together: Kara Kennedy Allen, Edward Moore Kennedy Jr. and Patrick Joseph Kennedy.
By all accounts, the Kennedy-Reggie marriage has been a bulwark for both partners. He described the relationship in one interview as “something very deep, unexpected, but something very powerful and meaningful to me and Vicki . . . and something that has given me a great sense of stability and emotional security and a great deal of joy and happiness.”
Victoria Kennedy reportedly held the family together after the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy Jr. in an airplane crash.
Ted Kennedy supported her after her brother, Raymond Reggie, a New Orleans fund-raiser, pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud charges in New Orleans. Raymond Reggie served six months of a one-year jail sentence on the bank fraud charges and was ordered to pay $3.1 million in restitution for the swindle, which was aimed at keeping solvent his advertising placement firm, Media Direct LLC.
Kennedy, the second-longest serving member of the Senate and third-longest serving in its 219-year history, has had a series of health problems over the years. If he is unable to serve out his term, which ends in 2012, a special election must be held between 145 and 160 days after the seat becomes vacant, according to a state law enacted in 2004.
The late John F. Kennedy held the Massachusetts seat from 1953 to 1960; Ted Kennedy won it in 1962.