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  • Peaceful Memorial Celebrates Bessettes

    Bessette memorial
    Mourners enter Christ Church in Greenwich, Conn., where a memorial service for Lauren Bessette and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was held Saturday. (Jeff Chistensen Reuters)
    By Liz Leyden
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, July 25, 1999; Page A24

    GREENWICH, Conn., July 24 In a sea of black, one small girl wore pink. Her dress flapped across her mother's arms, where she lay sleeping, unaware of the sadness around her.

    There was a certain peace to the twilight memorial service for Lauren Bessette and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

    One week ago, a small plane carrying the sisters and John F. Kennedy Jr. disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. Family and friends and people across America held their breath in hopes that a happy ending was still to come. But it was not to be, and hope quickly spiraled into mourning.

    In a week marked with public and private memorial services for the three young lives, the last gathering was held in Greenwich's small, beautiful Christ Church. Outside the 300-year-old church, a light wind lifted the leaves off the maple trees dotting the yard. Despite the crush of reporters lining the sidewalk across the street, the air was quiet as family and friends gathered to mark the lives of the Bessette sisters.

    About 400 invited guests began gathering two hours before the 7 p.m. service. The family of the sisters, including Lauren's twin, Lisa Ann, and their father, William Bessette, arrived hours before the memorial and entered through the back of the church.

    Among those who walked through the church's deep-red doors was a large contingent of JFK Jr.'s family. Ethel Kennedy arrived with her sons Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Max Kennedy and daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as William Kennedy Smith, Maria Shriver and her father, Sargent, followed soon after.

    At five till seven, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his niece Caroline pulled up in a purple Plymouth minivan. The service began promptly at seven, the church glowing with candles along the aisles and on the altar. Rev. Hugh Tudor-Foley, an assistant pastor at Christ Church, later described the ceremony as "somber and dignified," with "stories that caused laughter and stories that caused tears."

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and two of Lauren Bessette's friends were among several who spoke during the 90-minute service.

    After a private memorial held for Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn, on Friday, Foley said the focus tonight was Lauren. Bessette was remembered as a woman "always there for her friends" and "one who searched for challenges."

    Lauren Bessette was eulogized by her uncle, Jack Messina, who conjured a picture of his niece "playing miniature golf in the back yard in her pajamas and high heels.

    "If the events of these past eight days have taught us anything, it is to honor the moment," Messina said. "Cherish those around you."

    Of the three crash victims, Lauren Bessette's life was furthest from the spotlight and one filled with quiet success. She grew up in Greenwich with her two sisters, raised by her mother, Ann, and stepfather, Richard Freeman. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from Hobart and William Smith College and a master's in business administration from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. She spent four years in Morgan Stanley's Hong Kong offices, where she was promoted to vice president. And upon her return to New York in February 1998, the investment banker was again promoted, to principal, a title one step below the company's managing directors.

    It was a piece of Bessette's life that first washed ashore early last week, when her luggage, marked with a business card, was found on the beach.

    In contrast to Friday's memorial in New York, where hundreds of onlookers had filled the streets surrounding St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, there were only a few dozen along Greenwich's sidewalks. Those who did stop did so without cameras, many pausing only briefly.

    "We just came to make the sign of the cross and go," Pina Serlo said. Staring at the flowers, she said, "You just wish you could go back in time and tell them 'Wait until the morning.'"

    At 8:15 p.m., two clergymen walked to the front of the church and swung open the doors. They clasped hands with the exiting mourners, who hugged and talked softly out front. With a nearly full moon rising overhead, they walked slowly around the church yard, toward the parish hall, where a reception was to end the evening.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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