The Kennedy Bust: What We Know

Greg Ranzini '18
(he/him/his)
News Editor

The beginning of this semester saw the conclusion of the law library’s most perplexing mystery: what happened to the Kennedy Bust? With the installation of a replacement, the alcove near the Gunner Pit once again has its intended centerpiece. Still, questions linger for the 3Ls and faculty who remember the original. In a series of interviews conducted over the last two weeks, the Law Weekly set out to answer them.

What bust, again?

 No bust. Photo courtesy of Law Weekly.

No bust. Photo courtesy of Law Weekly.

 Bust. Photo courtesy of Law Weekly.

Bust. Photo courtesy of Law Weekly.

For years the alcove to the right of the front entrance to the Caplin Reading Room has contained a small bronze bust of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy ‘51. The glass plate in the back of the alcove is etched with an excerpt from RFK’s celebrated “Ripple of Hope” speech, which he delivered to the National Union of South African Students in 1966. The original bust and its replacement are replicas of a statue of RFK made by sculptor Robert Berks, known for the monumental statue of John F. Kennedy that stands outside the Kennedy Center, the Albert Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of Sciences, and the Fred Rogers Memorial in Pittsburgh. Both statues were donated to the law school by Ethel S. Kennedy, RFK’s widow. Taylor Fitchett, who retired as director of the law library this past Wednesday, recalls that she was asked by then-Dean Robert E. Scott to find a suitable place in the library to display the statue as a new employee, some time around the year 2000.

What happened to the original?

By all indications, somebody stole it late on the night of March 27 or in the early morning of March 28, 2016. The administration did not announce the theft as such to the student body at that time; still, Assistant Dean for Building Services Gregory Streit tells the Law Weekly, the University filed a police report on the same day. Fmr. Director Fitchett gives the same account, expressing consternation that the thieves would go to the trouble of stealing a bronze that was literally nailed to its pedestal. Although the bust’s theft has been treated as established fact by the student body for nearly two years, this is, to the best of the Law Weekly’s knowledge, the first official confirmation that the University regards the statue as stolen.

Where did the replacement come from?

Joby Ryan ‘05 described procuring the replacement in an interview with the Law Weekly last week. According to Mr. Ryan, the process was instigated by Peter Vincent ‘95 who learned that the statue was missing this past spring and asked Mr. Ryan to investigate. Mr. Ryan set about trying to find the statue on the open market—entertaining the possibility that the thieves might still be trying to fence it. He also opened dialogues with alumni who might be interested in replacing the piece. 

The team working on the project ultimately included Mr. Ryan, Mr. Vincent, Director Fitchett, Greg Henning ‘05 Law School Foundation CEO Lou Alvarez, and Prof. Emeritus David A. Martin. Mr. Henning, in turn, reached out to one of his childhood friends, Rep. Joe Kennedy III. Ultimately, Ethel S. Kennedy and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation donated the replacement.

Says Mr. Ryan, “We’re grateful to Peter Vincent for pushing it along, and also to Greg Henning, Class of ‘05, for keeping it in the front of our mind. This was a team effort inspired by our alumni.”

How is the new bust different from the old one?

According to Director Fitchett, the replacement bust, contrary to some 3Ls’ perceptions, is slightly larger than the old one. It is displayed on a black stone base with a prominent chip in one corner—not a mistake, as it turns out, but a designed-in feature of that production run. In all other respects, it is identical. A pair of small plaques on its base provide more information on its provenance and donation.

That’s a pretty cool bust. Where can I get one?

Please don’t steal the Kennedy bust in the library. If you want your own, replicas of the bust can occasionally be found at auction. Purists, however, may wish to receive the bust as a gift from the RFK Foundation. This, too, is possible! Recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award receive the same bust as the one on display in the library, chipped pedestal and all, as well as a $2,500 cash prize. Interested parties can also apply for the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, which carries a $1,000 prize, but does not come with the bust.

On an entirely unrelated note, the Law Weekly accepts student-written letters, articles, and columns on a weekly basis. Submissions are due by Sunday night each week for publication on Wednesday, and entitle writers to free pizza at that week’s meeting, held on Monday at 5 p.m. in the Law Weekly’s offices in Slaughter Hall 279. You can also join the paper as an editor and get free pizza every week in exchange for proofreading a few articles.

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gpr7qx@virginia.edu