Once, when Jacqueline Kennedy asked JFK about his best qualities, he told her that curiosity was a defining one. A mere interesting tidbit, were it hidden away in one of the hundreds of books written about the Kennedys. But coming from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who references “Uncle John” and “Aunt Jackie” in his anecdotes, it’s much more fascinating.
It’s clear that “Bobby Jr.,” as many of a certain age still refer to him, approaches life in a similar vein. “My interests are eclectic,” Kennedy says. “I’m curious about everything.”
His life is a testament to that: Kennedy is an author, radio-show host, litigator, and professor. A few years ago, he was dubbed by TIME Magazine as one of the “Heroes for the Planet” for his decades of work with Ossining-based Riverkeeper. Conservation and protecting our environment are his central preoccupations. Clean air and water are our birthright, he says, and, “Pollution is tantamount to theft.”
In 2014, two years after the suicide of his second wife, Mary, Kennedy married actress Cheryl Hines. He’s now bicoastal, trekking back and forth between homes in Bedford and Southern California. In his free time, Kennedy enjoys falconry (he’s a licensed master falconer) and whitewater rafting in some of the most picturesque, if not roughest, rapids around the world; it’s a pastime he fondly remembers sharing with his father and one that inspired a life in environmental activism. “You can’t have a clean environment without a functioning democracy,” Kennedy says. “It’s an old story.”
And, of course, Kennedy himself is part of an old story — one that includes Camelot, assassinations, politics, illicit romances, proud victories, and profound tragedies. As the closest thing this country has to royalty, the Kennedys, for better or worse, still fascinate us. And though such a legacy would seem a heavy burden to bear, Kennedy apparently takes it all in stride, traveling the world and spreading the gospel of clean air and water. Recently, he spoke before a clearly captivated audience of thousands at a Buddhist monastery in India.
“Bobby has this remarkable passion to tell a story,” says Marc Yaggi, who first met Kennedy as a student and is now executive director of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has grown to 300 organizations in 34 countries. “He fights for what’s right and what he believes in.” —JM