June 05, 2000 12:00 PM

It was an emotional morning,” says Paul Kirk Jr., chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston. There, on May 22, only 10 months after the death of her sole sibling, John F. Kennedy Jr., at 38, Caroline Kennedy presented the library’s 11th annual Profile in Courage Award for public service. “I felt John’s absence,” says Kirk, “but I felt his presence more.”

Brother and sister were tireless teammates as part of the library’s nine-member committee that chooses the award’s annual recipient, who is given both a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern designed by Caroline’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg, 54. “They were great together,” says Elaine R. Jones, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and a former Profiles panel member. “They didn’t always agree, which was wonderful,” she adds. “Caroline kept the discussion focused on finding people who have paid the price for their courage. John always wanted to have the full sense of the person.”

Caroline, 42, has no doubt that this year’s honoree, Hilda Solis, also 42, would have pleased her brother. As she said at the event, “No matter how much we miss John today, he was…is smiling on this award.” Solis, a Democratic state senator from El Monte, Calif., (and the first woman recipient), introduced state legislation last year to clean up waste areas in minority neighborhoods despite opposition from the business community. “Environmental justice was an issue John was particularly interested in,” says Caroline. “It meant a lot to me that it was something he cared about.”

But if Caroline’s sorrow could at times be sensed beneath her composure, her pride was evident. Throughout the ceremony she beamed at her children Rose, 11, Tatiana, 10, and John, 7, who attended the event for the first time. Just as Caroline and John were imbued with public service virtually from birth, so, Caroline says, are her children learning the Kennedy ethos: “They’re starting to be able to appreciate what the family history means. They’re starting to understand more and more.”

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