Written by Laura C. Walton, CNN
At 10 a.m. last Wednesday, Rev. Dr. Deborah Mickley held the first of the four services planned in the Taddle Creek National Monument during which each US presidential family will honor Dr. Maureen Kennedy Rosberg, who died July 2.
A helicopter flew in to the shrine. A complete sound system. A program. A single wreath. And no flowers.
It might have seemed perfect in another, more welcoming part of the nation.
Taddle Creek National Monument Taddle Creek National Monument Taddle Creek National Monument
“It was like an archaeology lesson. We were breaking the ground and breaking the ground until it was broken in a particular way,” said Dr. Mickley, who led the service. “A closed coffin. When you walk through the site there are no more flowers and no more wind. In that way, it feels healing.”
Florence and Herman Rosberg are renowned in Newport, Rhode Island, for being great educators. Teachers who didn’t have to lift a finger for school supplies, teachers who could go anywhere in the world with students. Florence was the progressive who founded colleges, Herman the religious who built hospitals, hospices and a new kind of school: a private elementary one.
“My mom loved to travel,” said Florence Rosberg’s daughter, Laura C. Walton, in a recent video interview. “She was always very intrigued by history and travel and what people were doing at the time, and she just wanted to support them.”
In so doing, Florence Rosberg set a model for “personal volunteerism” that led to ongoing fundraising, painstaking planning and delays of perhaps up to two years, according to Dr. David Kennedy, Sr., who was a student of Florence’s and became headmaster of two of the schools she founded, Grace, Rehoboth and St. George’s.
“She was so interested in others, so interested in how to teach better, how to make children smarter. She had an idea. She just wanted to share it,” Dr. Kennedy told CNN.
Gentle and caring
At the memorial service in Taddle Creek Park, guests were greeted by children performing the funeral song of Great Britain, the hymn I Am A Child Of God, sung in different languages. Dr. Kennedy Jr. addressed the crowd in a spooky ghostly voice. He said Florence had called him to the service: “I can do things my way.” Then the boys of Grace, Rehoboth and St. George’s followed suit, singing the next part of the hymn to prove it.
“They had wonderful voices, and I loved that,” said Dr. Kennedy. “They performed in her spirit, they performed for her.”
Dr. Kennedy willed these artifacts to the children. Each will eventually be housed in a glass case. After he died, Florence provided the Kennedy family with a portrait of Dr. Kennedy as a young man, with the blessing of her two grandchildren, now in their 30s. When the Kennedy family goes to Florence’s house for the first time, they will be greeted by 14-year-old Christian Breberts as he holds the portrait.
Through the 20th century, the Rosbergs farmed and homesteaded, preparing for a hard end to life as a farmer, and expecting a hard one as the time came to collect their daughter’s ashes in a specially designed, cistern-fed urn. As they got close to it, the urn froze. The box was destroyed by her family’s freezer.
“They just bared it all. They’re so gentle and caring,” said Dr. Kennedy. “That was true of the rest of the family. The Rosbergs and me in a sense were very deeply integrated. We were almost one family.”
The Rosbergs and the Kennedys had their differences. Dr. Kennedy’s religious views conflicted with those of the Rosbergs, whose upbringing was Roman Catholic. Their religious views also clashed. Dr. Kennedy was Jewish. Florence Rosberg was a christian.
Still, Dr. Kennedy called her the most faithful Catholic he had ever known.
On Saturday, more than 100 members of the Rosberg family and friends, including some of the first Kennedy children, will go to the cemetery where Florence’s ashes will be spread. No flowers. Just quietly, the key of their lives.