New roles for Vicki Kennedy as Ted fights cancer

BOSTON- At the edge of the political stage for 16 years, Vicki Kennedy is now in the spotlight, her role in America’s most storied political family expanded because of her husband’s brain cancer.

The fun-loving lawyer from Southern Louisiana has helped Sen. Edward Kennedy assess treatment options, organized the response from his staff, sent news down a family phone tree, and tried to maintain her husband’s dignity by picking and choosing how and when he is seen in public.

“No, no, not now,” she said, fending off questions from a reporter recently while she and her husband walked to their Cape Cod home, smiling and waving to friends.

“She’s been a terrific asset over the years, and at a time like this, her first and foremost concern is him and his well-being,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a close friend of the senator’s.

Vicki Kennedy was at her 76-year-old husband’s side when he suffered a seizure at home May 17, and was there again when he underwent brain surgery at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.

“What I see are real soulmates,” said Heather Campion, a Boston communications executive who is friendly with Vicki Kennedy. “They’re a complete team. They share the same interest. They’re very well matched, and I think that’s obvious to anyone who watches them.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, 54, is a prototypical Southern belle, with a soft Louisiana lilt in her voice. Like her husband, she loves to sing and will occasionally dance, and her manners are exhibited not just in voluminous thank-you notes but timely phone calls and unexpected get-well meals.

Last year, she threw an elaborate pair of 75th birthday parties for her husband in Washington and Boston. Standing in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, she told the Massachusetts crowd why she spent so much time arranging the food, drink and performance by the cast of Broadway’s “Spamalot.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody who enjoys his birthday more than Teddy,” Vicki Kennedy said as the crowd roared and her husband nodded in agreement.

Her father, Edmund Reggie, is a former judge from Crowley. He helped swing the Louisiana delegation to John F. Kennedy in his losing 1956 Democratic National Convention battle with Estes Kefauver for the party’s vice presidential nomination.

Four years later, Reggie managed JFK’s Louisiana campaign for president, as he did eight years hence for Robert F. Kennedy and again in 1980 when the sole surviving Kennedy brother, Edward, mounted his own White House run.

The family connection continued after Vicki Reggie graduated from Tulane University. She spent a summer as an intern in the mailroom of Edward Kennedy’s Senate office, meeting her future husband just once. She later graduated from Tualne Law School and had a son, Curran, and a daughter, Caroline, with attorney Grier Raclin.

Vicki Reggie and her first husband divorced in 1990, about eight years after Kennedy was divorced from his first wife, Joan. In 1991, Vicki Reggie and Edward Kennedy began a relationship after she invited him to a 40th anniversary party in Washington she threw for her parents.

In January 1992, he proposed at a performance of the opera “La Boheme,” and the couple married in July- just in time to head for New York to host a party for the Massachusetts delegation at the Democratic National Convention.

Dressed in a blue-and-white nautical outfit, the newly coined Vicki Kennedy greeted delegates as a boat circled the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. A giant diamond-and-sapphire ring glittered on her finger. The marriage also put a fresh shine on her husband, whose personal image had been tarnished.

The slide had started in 1969, when aide Mary Jo Kopechne died after he drove a car off a bridge on Chappaquidick Island. It continued after his divorce with tales of a rollicking bachelorhood.

In 1991, the senator testified in court in the rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith. Kennedy had encouraged Smith and his son, Patrick, now a Rhode Island congressman, to go drinking with him in Palm Beach during an Easter vacation.

Vicki Kennedy resigned from the now-defunct Washington law firm of Keck, Mahin and Cate in 1994 before working two years as a bank regulatory and loan restructuring attorney in the Washington office of Greenberg Traurig LLP.

She quit in 1997 to focus on raising her children and to avoid conflicts with Kennedy’s government work.

Since then, she and her husband have worked to blend their respective families: Edward Kennedy has three children, Kara, Edward Jr. and Patrick.

Next month, the Kennedys are slated to celebrate their wedding anniversary as they do every year- taking a week-long sail between Massachusetts and Maine on their schooner “Mya.”

“While the heart is tender, there’s a toughmindedness about getting the answer and getting the job done,” Paul Kirk, a close friend of the senator, said of Vicki Kennedy. “I would say each of them is equally blessed in their partnership.”

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