Senator Robert R. Kennedy represented New York from 1965 until June 1968 when he was fatally shot in Los Angeles while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. On November 19, 2008, forty years after he was assassinated, the Triborough Bridge, which connects Manhattan with the Bronx and Queens, was renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
“It is an honor to join the Kennedy family today to celebrate their beloved father, uncle, brother and husband – a man who served the people of our state and nation with distinction,” said Governor David Paterson. “Robert F. Kennedy was a champion of social justice and human rights, and his spirit is kept alive by his family’s continued commitment to those causes. I am particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to sign this bill into law, making possible the renaming of the Triborough Bridge as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, which is a fitting tribute to the man and his legacy.”
Governor Paterson was joined on the occasion by members of the Kennedy family, including Robert’s widow Ethel, her children and grandchildren; former president Bill Clinton; and various politicians, including former New York governor Hugh Carey.
“It was awesome,” Courtney Kennedy, Robert and Ethel’s daughter, said on the phone to Irish America a couple of days after the naming. “The night before, we were in a cab having flown in from Washington to JFK and as we crossed the bridge on our way into the city they were putting up the sign. Saoirse [her 10-year-old daughter whose father is the Irish activist Paul Hill] said, ‘How cool. When we leave we can ask the driver to take the FDR to the RFK to the JFK!”
So what did the cab driver think?
“He said that he hated the idea, that no one would call it that, and that in New York, bridges are named for the places they take people to, like the 59th Street Bridge, not for people,” Courtney reveals with a laugh. “Of course, by the end of the ride he said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re one of them.’ I admitted that we were Bobby’s daughter and granddaughter and he completely fell apart.”
It’s very Irish, and also a New York thing, to give nicknames, and Courtney admits that she and her mother, who is “over the moon” about the renaming, thought that “Bobby’s Bridge” sounded good but that she’d be happy with “the RFK.” And already that’s what the bridge is being called.
The bridge renaming coincided with the annual RFK Ripple of Hope dinner that took place at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan that same evening, at which the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Moral Courage was presented to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.