Patrick Kennedy and the Jersey Girl

Two years ago, Patrick­ Kennedy, a troubled scion­ of America’s greatest­ political­ dynasty,­ walked into an Atlantic City ballroom­ and met a local schoolteacher who would become his wife. Now he’s reinventing­ himself—while living ­in his in-laws’ house in Absecon.­ An unconventional­ love story.

THE COUPLE’S SITUATION FINALLY CHANGED due to real estate. The Linwood house sold, and in the fall of 2010, Amy and Harper temporarily moved in with her parents. And then Patrick announced he was buying a house in Brigantine. Amy’s first reaction was, “Whoa. We were serious, but … how can I explain this? We were still long-distance, and in the back of my head I was still imagining that maybe it wasn’t exclusive for him. We were still figuring out what we were going to do.”

Among other open issues, Patrick had recently agreed to write a tell-all memoir­. Amy wasn’t sure how she felt about him touring and talking about his past when they were trying to focus on a new future. “So I dragged my feet about him buying that house,” she says. “I asked a lot of questions about whether he was taking care of himself. It’s not like I expected a guarantee, but I wanted to make sure he was planning to live here and be healthy in a way where he could be my partner. I finally just said, ‘Don’t waste your money unless you’re doing everything else you need to be doing.’”

But Patrick knew what he wanted. He quietly bought the house, a 2,500-square-foot fixer-upper on a sprawling 14,500-square-foot lot with a dock on Brigantine Bay, for $1.1 million. He took Amy home for the 2010 Kennedy family Thanksgiving in Cape Cod, then returned to Washington to close down his Congressional office. He made almost no plans for the future. Instead he headed to Amy’s parents’ house, where he wanted “to come and hang out and have Christmas with family and not run a million miles a minute.” He stayed with Amy, Harper and the Savells. And it all felt so comfortable, so safe. He stayed through New Year’s. When Amy had to start teaching again, Patrick just made himself at home.

“At first I thought, What are you going to do here?” Amy admits. “It’s a new town, you don’t know anyone, I’ll be at work all day long. I thought that would be depressing. But it was good we ended up with my parents. My mom does not let anyone alone. She was, like, ‘No, Patrick, you’re not gonna stay in bed.’”

It turned out Patrick actually had something to do. He had asked his cousin Caroline Kennedy if he could borrow the JFK Library in Boston for a conference to be held on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s famous “moon shot” speech. He was putting together a sort of Woodstock of the brain sciences, with the moon shot as metaphor for the amazing challenge of getting all the competing areas of brain science, technology and treatment to begin acting with “One Mind.” Then-Harvard provost and former National Institute of Mental Health chief Steven Hyman was enlisted to create an ambitious 10-year plan for the neurosciences; Patrick set up an LLC called “Next Chapter,” hired an assistant, and got to work using the Kennedy name to get anyone who was anyone to present at the conference.

In the meantime, he and Amy made some decisions. On March 28th, 2011, they announced their engagement from Rhode Island; the ring was a serious diamond with small pink sapphires on either side, because Amy and Harper both love pink.

In May there was an intimate New York engagement party at the Sutton Place apartment of his aunt, Jean Kennedy Smith. The guests included Patrick’s brother Ted Jr., his sister Kara, their mother Joan, and assorted Kennedy cousins; Amy’s family and her best friend, whose new baby sat comfortably parked in a car seat in a corner; and a smattering of political,­ brain-science and Manhattan luminaries, including Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation­ and the former president of Brown University; Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia; Garen Staglin, the California winery millionaire who was Patrick’s “One Mind” partner; and Rob Andrews. “What I found delicious about the party,” Congressman Andrews recalls, “is that here we are on the Upper East Side in this magnificent apartment, surrounded with people walking out of a history book, and I’m from a normal South Jersey background—and so is Amy’s family­—and everybody is so comfortable­ and right at home. I spent most of the night talking about crew with Amy’s brother, because my daughter rows for Penn. The incongruity of talking about Schuylkill River rowing surrounded by Kennedy icons—it was a little surreal.”

Patrick canceled his tell-all memoir. He did agree to a personal but considerably less revealing interview with CNN to publicize the One Mind conference, as well as a fluffy story in People magazine about him and Amy. The One Mind conference was a success, and afterward the organization received its first major gift—a $3 million grant from Johnson & Johnson.

Patrick kept moving forward. On the days he wasn’t home in Absecon, he was preparing for the teaching he had agreed to do at Brown as a visiting scholar (he now has a similar relationship with Rutgers, which has given him an office at its Atlantic City campus) and giving lectures. In July, he and Amy went to Paris for a week as a pre-honeymoon­, then to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port for a week of festivities surrounding their intimate wedding. The ceremony was conducted by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a family friend who agreed to step in when Patrick realized that his long-standing feud with the bishop of Rhode Island (who once ordered that he be denied communion because of his pro-choice stand), coupled with the fact that Amy’s first marriage hadn’t been annulled, meant any attempt at a Catholic wedding would be “mired in controversy, and I wasn’t anxious to invite that kind of issue.” It was the last major family­ event at the storied retreat; the compound is being turned into a museum and research center, though Ted Kennedy left Patrick a garage apartment on the property.

Amy and Patrick wanted to have a family right away. In mid-September, they arranged to meet up for the weekend in Washington, where Patrick had some meetings, to visit his sister Kara. They wanted her to be the first to hear the good news that Amy was pregnant. Instead, early on Friday, September 16th, Patrick got a phone call with the stunning news that his 51-year-old sister had died of a presumed heart attack while working out at her gym. It was left to him to relay the terrible news to her teenaged children.