NEWPORT, R.I. — Retiring US Representative Patrick Kennedy likened the struggle to overcome mental illness with the civil rights movement and pledged yesterday to continue his mental health work.
Kennedy, a son of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, joined others at Providence City Hall in a 50th anniversary tribute to his late uncle, President John F. Kennedy. The president, on the eve of his election in 1960, gave a campaign speech on the steps of City Hall.
Patrick Kennedy became emotional at times during the event.
The congressman, who has battled addiction, has been an advocate for mental health issues during his 16 years in Congress. A few months after the death of his father, he announced that he would not seek a ninth term.
Once his term ends this January, it will be the first time in more than 60 years that a Kennedy has not held office in Washington.
The congressman was joined at City Hall by his successor, Providence Mayor David Cicilline. His mother, Joan, and brother, Edward Kennedy Jr., also attended what amounted to a farewell address.
“Many would say that with me leaving office, as the last member of my family in 60-plus years to hold public office, that that legacy is a legacy that’s leaving Congress,’’ Kennedy said.
But, he said, his work would continue. “People ask me what am I going to work on . . . and I tell them: ‘What I’ve always worked on: the destigmatization of those with brain illnesses,’ ’’ he said.
Invoking the words of his uncle and his father, he described advocacy for mental health as “a moral question for our time.’’