Monday 14 October 2019

Dear Dot... the Irish friend with a very special place in the life of Kennedy clan

Dorothy 'Dot' Tubridy, who died last week, had a life-long connection with America's most glamorous political family, writes Liam Collins

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: The late Dot Tubridy was one of the main inspirations for JFK’s Irish visit in June 1963
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: The late Dot Tubridy was one of the main inspirations for JFK’s Irish visit in June 1963
JFK’s motorcade passes College Green, Dublin in 1963
A letter from JFK before the visit
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

To President of the United States John F Kennedy she was 'Dear Dot' - and his warm and informal letters to her in the wake of his Irish visit typified the close relationship between her and the Boston/Irish clan which lasted a lifetime.

When Leo Varadkar presented Donald Trump with a bowl of shamrock on St Patrick's Day earlier this year he was following in the footsteps of Dorothy 'Dot' Tubridy, who inaugurated the practice in the White House in 1961 when she presented Jack Kennedy with the national symbol in a Waterford Glass bowl - as she was a brand ambassador for the crystal manufacturer.

According to family lore, JFK accepted the bowl of shamrock engraved with the Kennedy crest from Dot and went to put it on a side-table. The feisty family friend remonstrated with him and he put it back on the presidential desk (presented by Queen Victoria in 1879) and left it there for the duration of that March 17.

Telling her grandchildren the story, she added: "These days the bowls are of less well-made glassware."

The funeral of 'Dot' Tubridy, who died on Saturday, May 12, took place in Booterstown, Dublin, last Friday.

"She was very private and never wanted a fuss made about herself or her connections with the Kennedys," said one family member. "It was her wish that there would be no death notice in the papers before the funeral."

But she did ask the attendance, which included distant cousins Ryan Tubridy and his brother Garrett, Eileen Murphy and other old friends, to come in brightly coloured clothes for the occasion.

"She was fiercely patriotic and proud to be from Ireland," said her grandson Derry. "She may have rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, but it was never for her own ego."

Dot Tubridy became friendly with the Kennedys when she and her husband Captain Michael G Tubridy, a member of the Irish show-jumping team, represented Ireland at an event in Madison Square Garden, New York, in the late 1950s where they were introduced to Eunice Kennedy and her brother Bobby.

The two women began a close friendship that would see the glamorous Dot become a welcome member of the Kennedy family inner circle at their homes in Boston and later at the White House in Washington, where she was treated like a close Irish relative. In the meantime, like the Kennedys, she would also experience her own share of personal tragedy.

Born Dorothy Lawlor, one of 11 children in Co Kilkenny, she was educated locally along with four of her sisters at boarding school in Northern Ireland. She met and married the glamorous Irish Army captain Mick Tubridy, who also came from a large family from Kilrush, Co Clare.

He won an All-Ireland football medal with Cork and was also an international showjumping champion with horses like Bruree and Ballyneety. After retiring from the army, he became the manager of Trimblestown Stud, near Kildalkey, Co Meath - owned by Seamus McGrath of the Irish Sweepstakes and one of the richest men in Ireland, with extensive bloodstock and business interests.

Mick Tubridy was tragically killed in a riding accident in 1954 at the age of 31, when he and Dot's only daughter, Aine, was just three months old.

The McGraths appointed Dot Tubridy as the marketing executive for Waterford Glass, which they also owned.

Her friendship with the Kennedys opened many doors and she also presented radio and television shows in the US promoting the brand, even appearing in ads for teabags.

Dressed in an Ib Jorgenson gown, she was among the glamorous women who surrounded the new President at his inauguration in Washington on January 20, 1961. Along with his sister Eunice and Jean, she is credited with persuading Kennedy to visit Ireland.

Along with his sister-in-law Princess Lee Radziwill, the foursome accompanied him on his Irish journey from June 26-29, 1963.

"He was very tired and I thought he seemed in a very thoughtful mood," she said when Kennedy arrived at the US ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, where he stayed during the visit. "But as each day went on, he became happier and more relaxed."

In a letter dated July 9 and addressed ''Dear Dot'', Kennedy told her: "I look back on my visit to Ireland... I have nothing but pleasant memories. Dot, it could not have been better. We loved it. All your countrymen were wonderful to us and so were you. I hope you get better soon and that you will come and see us here."

An earlier letter to her, written during the middle of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, contained a number of doodles in the margin relating to the crisis.

Her daughter, Dr Aine Tubridy-Gibson, later auctioned these and other correspondence between her mother and Kennedy in New York. Dr Tubridy, who died in 2011, a very well-regarded therapist, helped many people suffering from anxiety and depression and wrote a book on the subject, When Panic Attacks.

Although she was well-known on the Dublin social scene, Dot maintained a low-profile, preferring to entertain at home on Rathgar Road, She later lived at the Elms apartment complex in Blackrock.

In 1985 she was one of the founders in Ireland of the Special Olympics which had grown out of Camp Shriver, founded in the United States by her friend Eunice.

"I am so proud to be one of the founders of the Special Olympic Games here," she wrote in a letter to friends.

She then listed the celebrities who attended - including Nelson Mandela, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ali Hewson with her husband Bono, and Pierce Brosnan - adding mischievously, "Madonna, eat your heart out!"

She was godmother to Bobby Kennedy's daughter Courtney and an honorary pall bearer at her friend Eunice Shriver's funeral in Hyannis during August 2009.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News