Mary Jo Kopechne's Family Speaks Out About Her Legacy Beyond Chappaquiddick

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·2 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Photo credit: Michael Stillwell - Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Michael Stillwell - Hearst Owned


“Hearst Magazines and Verizon Media may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.”

On July 18, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne was killed as she and then-Senator Ted Kennedy went over the Dike Bridge on Massachusetts's Chappaquiddick Island in Kennedy's car. Kennedy managed to escape the vehicle, which landed upside down in the water, but, unfortunately, Kopechne drowned. Now, more fifty years later, Kopechne's family is trying to humanize her legacy.

Kopechne's cousin Georgetta Potoski and Potoski's son William Nelson are hoping Mary Jo will be remembered in a more well-rounded way. Since the pair wrote a book five years ago, entitled Our Mary Jo, and appeared on People's Cover Up podcast, they've noticed that more attention is being paid to Mary Jo's personality and interests.

"People started asking questions: What was she really like?" Potoski said. "We want people to know who she was and what she stood for as a person."

"When we started this, I couldn't find anything on her," Nelson stated. "The only source I had was my mom and I suggested she start writing stories down. And the more we talked about it, the more interested people became."

Potoski noted that this nuance added to Mary Jo's life story marks a drastic change from earlier coverage of Kopechne, which focused much more on the Kennedy family.

"In the beginning when you searched for Mary Jo online, all you would see is that she was the daughter of an insurance salesman. Very Catholic. A secretary to Bobby Kennedy," said Potoski. "The stories were always about Ted Kennedy. But now if you research her name, people are beginning to learn how accomplished and talented she was. She was much more than a secretary."

The family also established a scholarship in Kopechne's name at Misercordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, which they hope will add to the conversation around Kopechne's life, rather than focus on her death.

"Mary Jo was a teacher in Alabama before she moved to Washington, D.C., to work in politics," Nelson said. "She cared about education and wanted to help people, and we want her to be remembered for the things she cared about."

You Might Also Like