Robert F. Kennedy’s Gift to His Groomsmen at His Wedding to Ethel Skakel

The groomsman’s silver pitcher given by RFK to Kenneth O’Donnell for serving as his usher, obtained directly from the O’Donnell family.

Purchase $17,000

JFK met O’Donnell at this wedding, and the latter later became John F. Kennedy’s advisor as his Special Assistant to the President; he was Robert Kennedy’s campaign manager in 1968

When Bobby Kennedy arrived at Harvard, he was very much in the shadow of his late brother Joe Jr. and his elder...

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Robert F. Kennedy’s Gift to His Groomsmen at His Wedding to Ethel Skakel

The groomsman’s silver pitcher given by RFK to Kenneth O’Donnell for serving as his usher, obtained directly from the O’Donnell family.

JFK met O’Donnell at this wedding, and the latter later became John F. Kennedy’s advisor as his Special Assistant to the President; he was Robert Kennedy’s campaign manager in 1968

When Bobby Kennedy arrived at Harvard, he was very much in the shadow of his late brother Joe Jr. and his elder brother Jack. Joe had been the apple of their father’s eye, and he had been killed in World War II. Jack was seemingly good at everything, and a real shining star, while Bobby had yet to make a name for himself. At Harvard he went out for the football team and made it, which gave him something to be proud of that neither of his brothers had achieved. On the squad, Kenneth O’Donnell was the team quarterback and captain, and an honorable mention All American. He and some of the other major players took a liking to Bobby’s grit and intelligence, and soon the younger Kennedy found himself popular for the first time in his life. In fact, O’Donnell became Bobby’s roommate. Both men went on to attend law school, Bobby at the University of Virginia and Kenny at Boston College.

After Bobby became engaged to Ethel Skakel in February 1950, he asked Kenny O’Donnell to be one of his ushers and groomsmen at the wedding. Bobby’s older brother Jack (John F. Kennedy), then a Democratic congressman from Boston, would be the best man. As O’Donnell later recalled, “We had a party the night before the wedding at the Harvard Club in New York. John Kennedy was there and he agreed that he had never seen such an outrageous, irreverent group of characters in his life”. This was the first meeting of Jack Kennedy and Kenny O’Donnell; it was a meeting that would have major consequences for the Kennedys, O’Donnell and the country. The lavish wedding, with nearly two thousand guests, took place on on June 17, 1950, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenwich, Conn. It received widespread attention in society.

As is customary, the groomsmen at the wedding received a gift; in O’Donnell’s case it was a silver pitcher. This is that actual pitcher, 7 inches high, and inscribed “RFK to PKO’D, June 17, 1950.” O’Donnell’s given names were Patrick Kenneth, but he dropped the Patrick soon after this event. The pitcher was recently obtained by us directly from the O’Donnell family, and has never before been offered for sale.

When John ran for the U.S. Senate in 1952, Robert brought him into John’s campaign organization. There he played an important role in Kennedy’s upset election over Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge. O’Donnell was John’s unpaid political observer in Massachusetts until 1957, when he came to Washington as Assistant Counsel of the Senate Labor Rackets Committee, having been hired by Robert Kennedy, chief counsel of the committee. In 1958, O’Donnell came in-house as a member of Senator Kennedy’s staff, and in 1960, he was a key organizer of Kennedy’s presidential campaign and director of his campaign schedule. JFK consulted with O’Donnell regularly, including during the Bay of Pigs affair and Cuban Missile Crisis. O’Donnell was an early critic of the Vietnam War, counseling Kennedy to bring an end to America’s involvement in Vietnam. He arranged JFK’s trip to Dallas in November 1963, and was in a car just behind the President’s when Kennedy was assassinated. It was an enormous blow to O’Donnell, who long blamed himself for the death of the President.

In 1968, O’Donnell served as campaign manager for Sen. Robert Kennedy, when Kennedy challenged President Johnson for renomination. He was with Kennedy when the latter was assassinated on June 5, 1968. O’Donnell’s daughter later wrote that “Bobby” was her father’s best friend, and that after the assassination his presence hung over their house “like a ghost”.  O’Donnell was present at the assassination of both Kennedy brothers.  He rode in the Dallas motorcade behind John and Jackie.

In his biography With Kennedy (1966), Pierre Salinger wrote: “It was my impression that O’Donnell had the greatest influence in shaping the President’s most important decisions. He was able to set aside his own prejudices against individuals and his own ideological commitments (I would rate him a moderate Democrat) and appraise the alternatives with total objectivity. It was impossible to categorize O’Donnell, as White House observers did with other staff members, as either a “hawk” or a “dove” on foreign policy, or a Stevenson liberal or Truman conservative on civil rights. JFK gave extra weight to O’Donnell’s opinions because he knew he had no personal cause to argue. Ken had only one criterion: Will this action help or hurt the President? And that, for O’Donnell, was another way of asking: Will it help or hurt the country?”

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