The Last Child Of Camelot

Her parents were two of the most famous faces of the century, and her brother's heartbreaking grin made front pages around the globe. But Caroline Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg has always steered clear of the spotlight. As the world grieved last week for John F. Kennedy Jr., his sister continued to keep her distance from the crowds. On Thursday, she hid her tears behind dark glasses as his ashes vanished into the sea. She was equally guarded the next day, when she walked into church with her husband and children to celebrate his life.

People who have known Caroline for years repeatedly use the same two words to describe her: dignity and grace. Those are qualities she will surely need as she assumes a sad new role she could never have anticipated: the lone survivor of what was once the First Family of Camelot. Friends say Caroline and John were exceptionally close, talking frequently on the phone. He was the best man at her wedding; she was the matron of honor when he wed Carolyn Bessette. With his death, she loses not just a brother but the only other person who could truly understand the magic and tragedy of the unique legend into which they were both born.

Speculation about her future began even before her brother's body was recovered. Would she relinquish her cherished privacy and become the keeper of the Kennedy flame? Although it's too soon to tell what her ultimate role will be, people who know her say Caroline will probably continue to support causes important to her parents: the Kennedy Library and the Profile in Courage Awards, American Ballet Theatre, the Municipal Art Society. Doing much more than that, however, would be a radical departure from her past behavior and a drastic reordering of her long-established priorities. "She's stepping up to her own personal legacy, and it has nothing to do with the public," says longtime family friend John Perry Barlow. "It is grotesque to expect her to step into anyone's shoes."

Now 41, Caroline is a wife, a mother of three young children, a lawyer and a bestselling author. She and her husband, artist-designer Edwin Schlossberg, 54, lead a quiet, family-centered life in their spacious Park Avenue apartment, just a short walk from her mother's former home on Fifth Avenue. The children's names reflect their parents' heritage and passions. Rose, 11, honors Caroline's grandmother, the Kennedy matriarch. Tatiana, 9, is named after Tatyana Grosman, an artist Schlossberg admired, and 6-year-old John (called Jack) is a tribute to President Kennedy.

It's a comfortable home, stylish but still child-friendly; there's even a playhouse in the living room. Although she has live-in help, Caroline is very much a hands-on mother, often walking her kids to school or to Central Park and cooking dinner. "She's not one to throw everything to the nannies," says Maura Moynihan, a classmate of Caroline's at Harvard and the daughter of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. "She's a working mother like the rest of us." Neighbors say she shops for groceries just like everyone else and works out at a local health club.

Her husband, who runs his own design firm, has a doctorate from Columbia. Parties at their apartment might include people like the artist Jasper Johns, whom Schlossberg knows through his work. Friends of the couple say they have a close and strong marriage, and that Schlossberg is very protective of his wife. They met at a dinner party in 1981; soon afterward, she was telling friends that she had fallen in love. Like her, he is an active parent, taking the kids to school, to Central Park or to the beach on weekends. Over the years, he has become involved in some Kennedy projects, such as designing the Profile in Courage Award given annually by the Kennedy Library.

Although she graduated from Columbia law school and passed the bar on her first try (a feat her brother could not match), Caroline has never practiced. Instead, she has written two books about the Constitution. The first, "In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action," was a 1991 best seller. She has said that she and her coauthor, Ellen Alderman, wrote the second, "The Right to Privacy," because so many readers of the first book had brought up the issue. Caroline and her coauthor did participate in relatively extensive publicity tours for the books, and submitted to interviews. But reporters were instructed to stick to the texts; personal questions were largely taboo.

Since the 1994 death of Jacqueline Onassis, Caroline has become slightly more visible, generally making public appearances in support of carefully selected charitable causes her mother cared about. Although she normally dresses simply, she can put on the Kennedy glamour. In 1995, she made what many considered a kind of formal debut at the spring gala for American Ballet Theatre. Caroline had taken over her mother's role as honorary ABT chairman; she also showed she inherited some of her mother's legendary style, wearing a golden Armani tunic and Jackie's favorite earrings, diamonds given to her by Aristotle Onassis.

When she's with people she trusts, Caroline is relaxed and witty, with a quick and easy sense of humor. She has cultivated a fiercely loyal circle of friends who understand that any breach of confidence would mean automatic estrangement. Some of them, like novelist Susan Minot, a bridesmaid at Caroline's 1986 wedding, date back to her boarding-school days at Concord Academy in Massachusetts. Another friend, Alexandra Styron, is the daughter of novelist William Styron and his wife, Rose, who was close to Caroline's mother from their summers on Martha's Vineyard. Caroline may have an aversion to publicity, but a surprising number of her friends work in the media, including Peter Kaplan, editor of The New York Observer, and literary agent Esther Newberg.

Despite reports of rifts in the clan, Caroline is also close to several of her Kennedy cousins, particularly Maria Shriver, a correspondent for NBC and the matron of honor at her wedding. (Caroline had served the same function at Shriver's marriage to Arnold Schwarzenegger a few months earlier.) It's not clear why the Schlossbergs hadn't planned to attend the July 17 wedding of Caroline's cousin Rory Kennedy, but they were on vacation in Idaho when her brother's plane crashed en route to the ceremony, killing him, Carolyn and her sister Lauren Bessette. They immediately flew to their country home in Bridgehampton, N.Y., rather than Hyannis Port or Martha's Vineyard, perhaps because that house has been a much-loved Schlossberg summer refuge for many years. Kennedy family members came by to console her, including her uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy. Reporters also spotted Maria Shriver and William Kennedy Smith.

The family's routine in the Hamptons is as private as their New York life. "When we learned on Monday that Senator Kennedy was coming to visit his niece and her family, no one even knew where the Schlossbergs live--and this is our coverage territory," said Irene Silverman, associate editor of The East Hampton Star. The Schlossbergs rarely show up at the celebrity-studded benefits or parties that make up the summer and weekend social schedule--even through their presence would immediately elevate any event to the A-list.

Still, Caroline is hardly a recluse. She has regularly attended services at the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgehampton, often bringing her children to mass, says Father Patrick Callan. "She seems to have her values where they belong, raising her family," he says. "She is comfortable with her faith and her life."

Until now, the most devastating events in that life were the deaths of her parents. President Kennedy was assassinated just five days before her 6th birthday. As her brother saluted his casket, she clung to her mother's side. More than three decades later, in 1994, Caroline was at her mother's bedside when Jacqueline Onassis died of lymphoma. At her funeral, Ted Kennedy described Caroline and John as their mother's "two miracles ... honest, unspoiled and with a character equal to hers."

Their character was no accident. Jacqueline Kennedy was determined that her children would grow up as normally as possible. "If Caroline and John turn out badly," she said in 1961, "nothing I could do in the public eye would have any meaning." When the family moved to New York after the assassination, she noticed that Caroline was not being invited to classmates' birthday parties. Guessing correctly that the other mothers did not want to be perceived as celebrity hounds, Jackie called them up and asked that Caroline not be excluded. That solved the problem. Caroline seems to have adopted her mother's child-rearing philosophy, always putting her kids first.

In 1992, writing for NEWSWEEK in honor of what would have been her father's 75th birthday, Caroline recalled the White House years. "I remember many of the same things people remember about me: hiding with my brother under my father's desk, riding my pony, watching the helicopters land and take off. I also remember other things that people don't know about, like the bedtime stories he made up especially for me." Those images, she wrote, were filled out by "pictures and stories I've grown up with, told by my mother and grandmother, my aunts and uncles... In putting these pieces together, I have come to believe, more strongly than ever, that after people die, they really do live on through those who love them." Now, once again, she has the burden of keeping alive the memory of someone she loved--and lost.