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 Mary Jo Kopechne

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Mary Jo Kopechne

  • Birth 26 Jul 1940 Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Death 18 Jul 1969 Chappaquiddick, Dukes County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Burial Larksville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Memorial ID 4569

Teacher and Administrator, she is most remembered for her controversial death in an automobile accident with Senator Edward Kennedy; the resulting political scandal caused Kennedy to reverse his decision to run for the US Presidency. Born in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, she was the only child of insurance salesman Joseph and Gwen Kopechne. After graduating from Caldwell College, New Jersey, she taught at Montgomery Catholic High School in Montgomery, Alabama, and then moved to Washington DC to work as a secretary for Florida Senator George Smathers. Shortly afterwards, she went to work as a secretary for New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy following his election in 1964. After Senator Robert F. Kennedy's death in 1968, she moved to Matt Reese Associates, a Washington DC firm that helped politicians establish campaign headquarters, and it was there she met Senator Edward Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's younger brother. On the evening of July 18, 1969, she attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island, near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, in honor of the "Boiler Room Girls," a name given to the six young women who had helped the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign, and who had closed up his files after his assassination in June 1968. All six of the women were single, and the six men in attendance were all married but present without their wives, and the attendees gathered for a late night party at the Lawrence Cottage, rented by Joe Gargan for the occasion. Late that evening (the exact time is in dispute), Kennedy offered to drive Kopechne back to her hotel at the Katama Shores Motor Inn in Edgartown, and later claimed that he mistakenly took a wrong, right turn onto Dyke Road, a dirt road leading to a beach about a mile down the road, instead of turning left onto the paved Chappaquiddick Road leading to the ferryboat which they would need to use to go to Kopechne's motel. A half-mile down Dyke Road, Kennedy drove off the side of the Dyke Bridge, and the car overturned into Poucha Pond. Kennedy got out of the overturned car, but Kopechne failed to exit the car and died. Kopechne's body was recovered later that morning; the diver reporting that Kopechne had positioned herself near the back seat wheel well where an air pocket had formed, and had apparently suffocated rather than drowned. Her parents ruled out an autopsy, so the cause of death was never officially determined. Senator Kennedy later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury, for which he received a two-month suspended sentence and one year probation. Kopechne's death and Kennedy's failure to properly deal with the accident, along with numerous discrepancies in his account of what happened, damaged his reputation and is regarded by many as the major reason that he decided to cancel his run for the presidency in 1972 and subsequent years. Kopechne's funeral was held on July 22, 1969, at St. Vincent's Roman Catholic Church in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and she was buried in the parish cemetery there.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 18 Feb 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 4569
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Mary Jo Kopechne (26 Jul 1940–18 Jul 1969), Find A Grave Memorial no. 4569, citing Saint Vincent DePaul Cemetery, Larksville, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .