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Ethel: A Special Treat on HBO

I was so moved by the historical, social, political, and familial contexts of this documentary, I don’t really have my own words to describe it. I took notes throughout the documentary, so I will simply share my notes/quotes here. At the bottom of the post, I shared the link to Ethel’s HBO page. But, all in all what stood out most to me was the commitment to family and the commitment to serving one’s country.

“Today, over the objection of the governor of Alabama, two Negroes were allowed into the university. I hope these events are long past when you get your pretty little head to college.” ~ Robert Kennedy wrote a letter to his then 3 year old daughter Kerry, dated June 11, 1963. At the time, Robert had sent his Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to the University of Alabama to persuade Gov. George Wallace to literally remove himself from the schoolhouse door and allow African American students James Hood and Vivian  Malone to enroll. (Read more at

“Be kind to others and work for your country.” Robert Kennedy in a letter to his oldest daughter Kathleen, dated November 24, 1963, two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

“He was not as comfortable [running his first election campaign without his brother]. Where as Jack was a born orator, nothing came naturally to Daddy. He really had to struggle for everything.” ~ Ethel speaking of her late husband Robert Kennedy to their filmmaker daughter Rory.

“I always felt having been a campaign manager, that 90% of the talk was done by men and 90% of the work was done by women.” ~ Robert Kennedy speaking during his campaign for Senator in New York.

“Frank as it is, and maybe difficult as it is to understand in the state of New York, I’d like to be a great United States senator. I like to serve.” Robert Kennedy answering the question of why he was running for senator in New York.

After winning his senate seat, he was asked what he attributed his success to. He responded, “Just the effort we made in the campaign. And to Ethel.”

“I’ve just been to Mississippi. Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know how lucky you are? You have to do something for our country. You have to give back.” His daughter Kathleen retells the story of Robert Kennedy’s words to his family after a visit to poor, starving black families in the Mississippi Delta in 1967.

“I run for the presidency because I want the United States of America to stand for hope…instead of despair. To stand for the reconciliation of man instead of the growing risk of world war.” ~ Robert Kennedy announcing his candidacy in the Senate Caucus room in March 1968.

“Why did I lose? Because I didn’t do well enough.” ~ RFK on losing the Oregon Primary.

Robert Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan shortly after winning the California Primary. He died on June 6, 1968. He was 42 years old.

“Then we lost Daddy.” Rory Kennedy narrates in this surprisingly gripping documentary about her mother Ethel that turns out to be an amazing story of a loving and supportive marriage partnership, as well as intelligent and inclusive parenting.

“My brother need not be idealized or be enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. Be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it; saw suffering and tried to heal it; saw war and tried to stop it.” ~ the late Senator Ted Kennedy eulogized his brother Robert.

Rory Kennedy was born six months after her father died on December 12, 1968. Ethel says of her, “That was the joy of my life….Rory, the last of the Irish kings.”

“Although I think they were equal partners, my mother took a step behind and she was supporting Daddy. And after we lost him, I think she felt the need to become more of a leader.” ~ Daughter Kathleen

“Seeing our mother walk, in his absence, along that same path really impacted all of us. That gave us, not the obligation, but the gift of a contributory life.” ~ Son Max

“When my father was alive, my mother was always there for him. Her love lifted him up. And after, when my mother was left to raise us and to carry on his fight, he was there for her too…His love still lifting her up.” ~ Rory, daughter and filmmaker

Link to documentary site:

2 thoughts on “Ethel: A Special Treat on HBO

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