Mary Jo Kopechne was an American teacher, secretary, and political campaign specialist, who came to limelight when she worded Robert F. Kennedy's March 1968 speech that announced his presidential candidacy. Her promising life was cut short as she died in a car accident in 1969, while she was traveling as a passenger in a car being driven by the US Senator Ted Kennedy. Kopechne, who once taught at the Mission of St. Jude, had also worked as a political campaign specialist on New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy's secretarial staff. She had worked as a secretary for Florida Senator George Smathers as well. She was a loyal worker who worked hard day and night at Kennedy's Hickory Hill home. She was knowledgeable politically and had the ability to work on sensitive matters. She was also a keen enthusiastic participant of his office softball team. Kopechne was a fan of Polish-American Carl Yastrzemski and Boston Red Sox. In her personal life, she was known to be a woman of morals. Being a devout Roman Catholic with a serious, demure "convent school" demeanour, she rarely drank and had no reputation of sexual conducts with men.
After graduation, Mary Jo Kopechne started teaching at the Mission of St. Jude. She then moved to Washington, D.C. and began working as a secretary for Florida Senator George Smathers. Following New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy's election, she joined his staff as a secretary to the senator's speechwriters as well as a legal secretary to one of his legal advisers. Kopechne was also a keen player in Kennedy’s office softball team.
During the 1968 U.S. presidential elections, she helped with the wording of Kennedy’s March Speech. During his presidential campaign, Kopechne worked hard as one of the Boiler Room Girls—a group of young women who were involved in tracking and compiling data related to the elections.
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968, she got a job at the firm Matt Reese Associates. A determined and ambitious young woman, she was well on her way of building a successful professional career at the time of her tragic death.
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On July 18, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne attended a party on the Chappaquiddick Island. This celebration was a kind of reunion of Late Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign workers and was dedicated to the Boiler Room Girls. Kopechne left the party with Robert's brother Ted Kennedy whom she did not know well. Ted, who had offered to drive Kopechne to catch the last ferry back to Edgartown, drove his Oldsmobile Delmont 88 off a narrow, unlit bridge that was without guardrails. The automobile landed in the Poucha Pond and overturned in the water, causing Kopechne to drown and ultimately die in the submerged vehicle. Kennedy, however, freed himself from the car and survived.
On July 22, 1969, a private funeral for Kopechne was held at the St. Vincent's Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. The service was attended by Kopechne’s family, Kennedy, his wife Joan, and hundreds of onlookers. Finally, Kopechne was buried in the St. Vincent's Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
Mary Jo Kopechne was born on July 26, 1940, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA, to Gwen and Joseph Kopechne. She was their only child. Growing up, she studied in parochial schools. She then attended the Caldwell College for Women and graduated with a degree in business administration in 1962.