Bill Cunningham/The New York Times
Patrica Kennedy Lawford in 1998.
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, who as a sister of President John F. Kennedyhad a front row seat to history and forged new links between her brother’s administration and Hollywood through her marriage to the actor Peter Lawford, died yesterday at her home in Manhattan. She was 82 and also had a home in Southampton, N.Y.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Senator Edward M. Kennedyof Massachusetts, Mrs. Lawford’s brother.
Poised as a princess, athletic and lithe, Mrs. Lawford is widely remembered as the Roman Catholic schoolgirl who dismayed her domineering father, Joseph P. Kennedy, the former Ambassador to Britain, by marrying Mr. Lawford, a debonair British actor.
Patricia Kennedy’s 1954 marriage to Mr. Lawford was the stuff of newsreels; some 3,000 spectators gathered outside St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church on the Upper East Side.
The sixth of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Mrs. Lawford, like her siblings, had a well-honed understanding of politics and of the power of appearances. As early as 1946, she campaigned for her brother John during his first run for Congress, organizing highly effective women’s coffees in Boston and Cambridge neighborhoods, and when he ran for President in 1960 she often substituted at events for his pregnant wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.
The Lawfords strengthened John F. Kennedy’s ties to the show business world of Hollywood and Las Vegas through Mr. Lawford’s association with “The Rat Pack” ofFrank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Shirley MacLaine.
Through the years, Mrs. Lawford was close friends with Marilyn Monroe, Tennesee Williams, and Sinatra, for whom she partly named her daughter Victoria Frances.
In 1966, after 11 years of marriage, Mrs. Lawford became the first Kennedy to file for a divorce. It was a highly publicized break, one that required Mrs. Lawford to establish residency in Idaho in order to circumvent New York’s divorce laws of the time.
Afterward, Mrs. Lawford and her four children moved to New York, where she took on a busy social schedule, befriended artists and writers and became known as a generous benefactor of the arts. She was a familiar presence at benefit dinners and her patronage would increase the cachet of any fund-raising charity event. Her name still regularly appeared in the society columns of Palm Beach, New York and the Hamptons, where she maintained a residence.
Patricia Kennedy was born on May 6, 1924, in Brookline, Mass., the fourth daughter of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy and the granddaughter of John F. Fitzgerald, the popular mayor of Boston who had earlier served in the House of Representatives. Hers was a family that expected women to be graceful and well-rounded while remaining in the background, quietly serving the ambitions of their men. Of the five Kennedy sisters, she was considered the most beautiful and sophisticated, with the aristocratic air of her mother. She was an accomplished athlete but unlike her ambitious siblings, she never caught the family’s legendary fire for competition.
In her book 1987 book, “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys,” Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote that Rose Kennedy was bothered by Patricia’s lack of ambition. “Although she had a good mind, a fine physique and a beautiful face which could easily have led her to excel in school, in sports or in appearance, Rose contended ‘she would never make the effort to achieve distinction’ in any of these areas.”
Much like her older sister, Kathleen, who made her mother furious by marrying outside her church, Patricia disappointed her parents by marrying Mr. Lawford, a nominal Episcopalian who agreed to raise their childen as Catholics.
Mrs. Lawford was the only Kennedy to move away from the family’s traditional East Coast settings of Hyannis Port, Palm Beach and New York. She and Mr. Lawford settled into a sprawling mansion in Malibu that was once owned by Louis B. Mayer. The house became a recreation center for other family members, and the President would spend time lounging at his sister’s pool when he was on the West Coast.
After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, she was often seen in the company of his widow and their two children. As recently as 1986, she joined Senator Kennedy on an official visit to Chile that was marred by egg-throwing protestors angered by Mr. Kennedy’s criticism of President Augusto Pinochet.
She devoted her energies to organizations that served the mentally disabled and those helping people with substance abuse problems. She had a close personal appreciation for both causes: her older sister Rosemary was born mildly retarded and was lobotomized at 23, and she, Mr. Lawford and her son Christopher had waged their own battles with drugs and alcohol.
Her brother Robert, the former attorney general and later senator from New York, was closest to her in age, just 18 months younger. After his assassination in 1968, Mrs. Lawford assembled a privately printed book of reminiscences about him, as John had done before about the oldest brother, Joe, who died in World War II.
Her book, “That Shining Hour,” was published in 1969. In her introduction, she wrote “This is not a sad book. Bobby was not a sad person. His basic shyness to the outside world gave way to fun, humor and wit whenever he was with the family.”
In addition to her brother Edward and two of her sisters, Jean Kennedy Smith and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Mrs. Lawford is survived by her son, Christopher, of California, and three daughters, Sydney, of Washington, Robin, of New York, and Victoria Frances, of Washington, and 10 grandchildren.