Back Home Again in Indiana, Emily Black Picks Up a Freighted Name: Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
It just might have been the biggest thing to hit Bloomington, Ind. since the town was filmed in Breaking Away. But this time the person breaking away was Emily Black, 24. Her mother still remembers tipping the news of Emily’s engagement to her bridge club. “I told them Emily was going to marry Bobby Kennedy,” she recalls. Playing cards froze in midair. “They said, ‘The real Bobby Kennedy????’ ”
Yes. Barring any last-minute complications, Camelot was to come to Indiana on April 3 for a Kennedy-style wedding complete with 25 best men and ushers (nine of them Kennedy brothers or cousins); 10 maids of honor and bridesmaids (four of them Bobby’s sisters); his mother, Ethel; his uncle, Ted, and the usual gaggle of photographers and reporters.
The union brings together a retired schoolteacher’s petite (5’4″) daughter with RFK’s third child and the one who evokes the strongest echoes of his father. Bobby Jr. looks and talks startlingly like RFK. Though at 6’2″ he’s a head taller than his father, he has the same intense eyes and combative slouch, the same idealism, adventurousness and sense of family.
Emily, who met Bobby when they shared a class at the University of Virginia Law School, is not the least intimidated by her formidable in-laws. ” have a strong personality and a whole lot to do on my own,” she says. She’s had her initiation at Hickory Hill, Ethel’s Virginia home—including, Emily giggles, not just touch football but “Kick the Can, Red Rover and Chase One, Chase All. It’s like the house I grew up in, but much bigger.” An Indiana Protestant, she decided (“on my own”) to become a Catholic and expects to enter the church around Easter. “I sponsored Emily into the church,” Bobby says, “which my mother tells me means I’ll go straight to heaven. Spending five hours in a class on subjects like ‘Structure of the Mass’ doesn’t sound like how you’d like to spend a Sunday afternoon when there’s a football game on. Two years ago I’d have been cynical. But this has brought us closer together.”
At 28, RFK Jr. is a star. Harvard, the London School of Economics and a 1978 book on the crusading Alabama federal judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. are behind him. His law degree is due in May, and he’s had a political confirmation as an organizer of Uncle Ted’s try for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. He’s also “one of the family’s best speakers,” says brother Michael, 24, a fellow student at his law school.
But Emily, whose mother is now wed to a power plant manager in Cameron, Mo. (pop. 5,000), has spark too. “She glows less brightly than Bob, and from a distance people think she’s overshadowed by him,” notes a friend. “But she’s a very capable, very smart and overwhelmingly good-hearted girl. She has as much strength as he does, but of a deeper kind.”
Indeed, a problem arose after they decided to wed. “We each wanted a family about the size of the one we grew up in,” she explains, but her parents had three kids and his had 11. They’ve compromised—sort of. “We have decided on around five,” Emily says. “But that’s just an idea. We’ll see how it goes.”
Emily’s father, a lumberyard owner and manager in Bedford, Ind., died when she was 2. The family moved to Bloomington when she was 6. She feels “kind of sad that I’ll probably never again live in Bloomington,” where her brother, Tom, 28, works in the supplies department at the hospital. (Her married sister, Sarah, 29, sells real estate in Chicago.) After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in political science from Indiana U, Emily went to the U of Virginia Law School in 1978. She soon was palling around with Bobby, but he took 1980 off for the campaign. “I met a lot of other people I liked,” Emily recalls. “But when Bob came back, I knew I liked him the best.” After graduation last spring she stayed in Charlottesville. They decided to marry in August. Explains Bobby: “We were in love, wanted kids and were ready to limit our lives to each other.”
In Charlottesville, Emily has been sharing an apartment with a woman student, while Bobby has been batching it in a dilapidated pool house on an estate. “She leaves me notes saying, ‘Why don’t you ever clean this place up?’ ” he says. “I’ve got a high threshold for filth.” They jog two and a half miles every day, ride often, study together and for relief go bar-hopping every Thursday night.
After Bobby’s graduation they’ll move to New York, where Emily hopes to work as a public interest lawyer and he’ll join the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau as a $20,000-a-year assistant D.A. “If you want to compete with the best people, you go to New York,” Bobby says. “You can’t bring out the best in yourself unless you do that.” They’ll live in a co-op willed to Bobby last year by LeMoyne Billings, who was Jack Kennedy’s roommate at Choate and Princeton (which JFK briefly attended before Harvard). Says Bobby: “I won’t get over Lem’s death any more than I’ll get over my father’s.”
Bobby and Emily plan to share the cleaning and cooking. “I’m the most radical women’s lib advocate. In fact, I’m going to breast-feed our first child,” he jokes. Does anything about her bother him? “Nothing,” he says. “She is perfect.” And her? “Well,” she admits, “he’s kind of a slob.”
“I’m hyperactive,” Bobby allows. “I have a tendency to stay out too late and drink too much beer.” Besides being enamored of falconry and rafting down uncharted rivers in exotic countries, he has on various expeditions eaten caterpillars (“very nutritious”) and giant rats, broken an arm falling out of a tree trying to rescue a pet bird, dangled by rope over a 250-foot cliff to check out an African vulture’s nest, and had a run-in with an angry bull in Spain. After his father’s 1968 assassination, he was also arrested for possession of marijuana, fined for loitering after a hassle with a Hyannis cop, and pinched for speeding. None of that’s Emily’s style. “I’m sort of a chicken,” she says. “I don’t have to be scared to death to have fun. I slow down our lives to a certain extent.”
Friends agree. “She calms him,” says one. “But she doesn’t try to rein him in. Bobby has a vibrant personality. For Emily to ride herd on him would be like buying a Ferrari and then not letting it out of first gear.”
Bobby, this chum adds, “is fearless and has a great capacity for inspiring people to do great deeds. Emily’s way is different. One day Bobby took some inexperienced riders out and had them taking jumps. Bobby was leading these people he had infused with courage, and in the very back was Emily on a small horse saying, ‘Oh there, there, now,’ ministering to their fears in a way that Bobby never would. She was sort of the Red Cross lady on the ride.”
Bobby can afford pleasures like his part-Thoroughbred, part-pinto horse, Killarney. But the fortune piled up by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. in real estate, liquor and movies just may be running thin, divided as it is among his children and their 29 children, including Bobby Jr. “Nobody in my father’s generation had to work for a living,” Bobby says. “That cannot be said about mine. But that’s good. Otherwise you get weak.” What hasn’t faded, he declares, is a sense that “this country has been very good to the Kennedys, and we owe it something.” Will he go into politics? Bobby only cites his eldest brother, Joe, 29, who runs a Boston firm that sells cheap heating oil to the poor, and says that “everybody in my family will find themselves in some kind of public service.”
Now there’s one more young Kennedy in that family. “I never considered not changing my name, just out of tradition,” Emily says. “Besides,” Bobby adds, grinning, “a name can be helpful in a lot of situations. And Kennedy is better than Black.”