06/04/04 — Not Irish: Kerry family ties are fascinating

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Not Irish: Kerry family ties are fascinating

If Masschusetts Sen. John F. Kerry is elected president, he would be perhaps the most cosmopolitan leader in our history. His roots go back to several European countries and even to China.

Many people think he is of Irish descent — a mistaken notion that, as a Boston politician, Kerry has not taken pains to correct.

The truth is that Kerry’s father, Richard, was born of immigrants from eastern Europe. His grandfather was Fritz Kohn, a native of an area of Austria-Hungary that is now in the Czech Republic. His grandmother was Ida Loewe Kohn, who was born in Budapest. They came to the United States in 1905 and changed their name from Kohn to Kerry and their religion from Jewish to Roman Catholic.

Richard Kerry was born in 1916. After graduating from Yale and the Harvard Law School, he went to work for the Foreign Service. In France he met Rosemary Forbes, whose father was James Grant Forbes. He was one of the wealthy New England Forbeses, but he had been born in Shanghai, China, which was then occupied by the United States. The family had made a fortune in the opium and china trade in Shanghai, and James Grant Forbes had become a businessman and lawyer living in France and England.

Rosemary Forbes’ childhood home was Les Essarts, an estate at Saint-Briac, France. Her son, John Kerry, who attended boarding schools in Switzerland and New England, spent boyhood summers at Les Essarts and became close to his French cousins, including Brice Lalonde. Lalonde, like Kerry, later became a leader of student protests. In 1981 he ran for president of France as a Socialist but lost.

Kerry has kinfolks in Texas, as well. Rosemary Forbes’ mother was Margaret Tyndal Winthrop, whose ancestors included John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among the other notables who have descended from this side of Kerry’s family is George W. Bush.

Published in Editorials on June 4, 2004 12:20 PM