- Last Updated: 1:49 AM, May 19, 2012
- Posted: 6:22 PM, May 18, 2012
WHITE PLAINS — The two sides of Mary Richardson Kennedy's grieving family faced off in court Friday over custody of her body, just hours before she was mourned at a wake at the estate where she committed suicide.
Details of the legal dispute were sealed by a judge, but it came as the Kennedy and Richardson families were finalizing arrangements for separate memorial services for the 52-year-old architect and environmentalist, who hanged herself Wednesday. Mary and Robert Kennedy had been going through a lengthy, contested divorce.
Relatives, friends including "Curb Your Enthusiasm" creator-star Larry David and "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King, and other mourners — so many that some had to park on nearby side streets — converged Friday evening on the brick mansion in suburban Bedford. Floral deliveries and vans full of people arrived as two police cars were stationed at end of the long driveway, keeping reporters at a distance.
"Everyone loved her. She was part of our family," brother-in-law Douglas Kennedy said as he left the gathering. "She was the most organized, fun-loving person. ... She loved for everyone to be together, which is what we're trying to do."
As for the seeming rift between the families, he said only that his late sister-in-law wouldn't have wanted to see her relatives fight and added, "We're all just trying to stay together."
Earlier in the day, Robert Kennedy declined to speak about the legal dispute after emerging from a closed court session in White Plains, saying only, "It's all done." Lawyers for Mary Kennedy's siblings also declined to comment or didn't return phone calls.
The medical examiner's office in Westchester County had been told there would be court proceedings related to custody of Mary Kennedy's body and waited for a court order before releasing it to a funeral home in Bedford, county spokeswoman Donna Greene said.
Mary had been close with the Kennedy family for decades, dating back to a teenage friendship with one of Robert's sisters, Kerry Kennedy.
One of Mary's brothers, Thomas Richardson, filed legal papers in White Plains on Thursday listing Robert Kennedy as the defendant. The document wasn't made public and was then subsequently sealed, along with all other papers related to the case, by Judge Joan Lefkowitz.
The court filing came on the same day that the Kennedys had announced their memorial plans for Mary, which included the wake Friday evening, a funeral Saturday morning at a Roman Catholic Church, and burial later in the day near the family's seaside compound in Hyannisport, Mass.
Meanwhile, Mary Kennedy's siblings announced through their lawyer, Kerry Lawrence, that they were planning a memorial service in Manhattan, though they didn't say when.
Lawrence declined to answer questions about the court filing Friday. The lawyer listed in court records as representing Thomas Richardson, Patricia Hennessey, had also served as Mary's divorce lawyer. Hennessey did not return a phone message.
Mary Kennedy killed herself after struggling for years with depression and alcohol.
"She struggled so hard, for so long, with mental illness, which so many Americans suffer with," Kerry Kennedy said in brief remarks to reporters Friday outside the church where the funeral was planned. "She fought with dignity, and in the end, the demons won."
Mary and Robert, the son of assassinated U.S. senator and Attorney General Robert Kennedy, had been in divorce proceedings since 2010. The couple had been living in separate homes and had four children together.
"We're trying to take care of Bobby and Mary's kids. That's all that anyone should be caring about," Douglas Kennedy said.
Records in the couple's divorce case are sealed, but the public docket sheet showed that Robert Kennedy's lawyers had sought a contempt order in the case last summer, indicating a dispute between the two sides.
American Express also sued Mary Kennedy in April, claiming she owed $32,624 in unpaid bills. Her lawyers didn't respond to inquiries about that lawsuit.