First, let’s get one thing straight. Katherine Schwarzenegger and Christopher Kennedy Lawford are not direct cousins. Yes, they are both related to the late Rose and Joe Kennedy. Now, bear with us because even Chris admits that it’s a bit confusing. Chris is the cousin of Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger, Katherine’s mother. That means Chris and Katherine are “first cousins once removed.”
Told you it was going to be confusing. But get used to it, because Dallas is seeing more and more of the multi-generational Kennedy clan. Rory Kennedy and her brother Robert Kennedy Jr. were here a couple of weeks ago to chat with Charlie Rose. Anthony Shriver pops in to visit with old friends Jan Miller and Jeff Rich about his Best Buddies program.
Earlier this week author Katherine Schwarzenegger was in town for The Elisa Project’s Life’s Lessons Luncheon at the Omni Dallas Hotel. Also working the city was Chris Lawford, who was promoting his book “Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction” and talking with groups about drug and alcohol abuse.
Monday night found Katherine at Fort Five Ten for a patrons party while Chris was at Stephanie Curtis’s home for a private party. That was just a warmup for a busy Tuesday.
Katherine and Christopher started off the day early at WFAA’s “Good Morning Texas.” Both had that family trait of drop-dead great looks, and were extremely articulate and focused on their reasons for being in Dallas. But it wasn’t a lengthy family reunion. No sooner were they together than Katherine was on camera and, later, Christopher.
Quickly the two headed in different directions. Chris went off to talk to McCullough Middle School students and Katherine headed to the Omni Dallas Hotel for a meet-and-greet prior to the Life’s Lessons Luncheon. In the Fair Park room, the crowd of VIP’s chatted while waiting for their chance to meet the tall, gorgeous eldest child of Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Leslie and Rick McCall looked pleased at the turnout. It was the McCalls who, in losing their daughter, Elisa, to suicide as a result of bulimia, created the Elisa Project to prevent other Elisa’s and their families from experiencing such a tragedy. Ironically, Tuesday would have been Elisa’s 34th birthday. Instead of celebrating her birthday with candles and presents, nearly 600 men, women, boys and girls came together to help others in Elisa’s memory.
One of those was jewelry designer Elizabeth Showers, who was to receive the Star of Hope Award at the luncheon for her efforts and support of the Elisa Project. As a show of her dedication to the eating disorder program, she includes a star in all the pieces in her jewelry collection.
As guests settled in for lunch in the Trinity Ballroom, Parish Episcopal School students with balloons hovering overhead made their way through the ballroom selling raffle tickets. Occasionally, the silhouette of a balloon would float by one of the two huge screens at the front of the room. Elisa Project Interim President Anne Besser seemed to visit each table. She even found time to ask the production crew to rerun the sponsors’ slides. Smart gal. Let’s keep those sponsors happy.
Co-chair Ellen Cook and Jackie Moore were joined at the podium by their daughters Caroline Cook and Hannah Moore to thank all for attending.
Emcee WFAA’s Gloria Campos in a turquoise suit then introduced Anne B, who briefly joined Glo, whispered something in her ear and returned to her table. Silence. Then Gloria explained that Anne couldn’t find her speech. No sooner had Gloria revealed the reason for the silence, than Anne returned to the podium ready to wing it. But magically the speech appeared on the podium and Anne was just fine thanking guests and requesting their help to grow the program.
Elisa Project Board President Alvin Wade then presented the award to Elizabeth. The blonde with the sky-blue eyes relied on notes with large fonts so she wouldn’t have to wear her glasses. She endeared herself to the audience by setting aside a page or two of her acceptance speech and instead encouraging guests to support The Elisa Project. [Editor's note: Before the luncheon Elizabeth was still a little amazed at being given the award for something she just does naturally.]
It startled some in the audience when the 41-year-old admitted that 21 years ago, she had considered s suicide. Why would this young woman, who had talent, a wonderful family and great looks, ever consider that? Because as was emphasized time and again during the lunch, there has been and continues to be an unreal expectation for perfection and beauty in today’s society.
Katherine was up next. She, too, read directly from her notes. For a keynote speaker that may seem a bit distracting, but her message and delivery kept the entire room captivated.
No, Katherine had not suffered from an eating disorder, but she had faced the unreal expectations by society of perfection. The gal stated flatly and plainly that no one is perfect. This frustration with unreal expectation had been a driving force in her writing “Rock What You’ve Got: Secrets to Loving Your Inner and Outer Beauty from Someone Who’s Been There and Back.” [Wonder how that title fits on the book spine?] It seems that after working on the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, she was disturbed by the attitudes that countless people have about physical perfection and the lengths to which they go to try to achieve it. When Katherine went home, it only got worse listening to her younger female relatives sound the same concerns about appearance.
It was then that she unloaded on Kennedy family friend/Dallasite Jan Miller. Jan’s solution — write a book. And that’s exactly what Katherine did. It was so successful that she’s now writing another book.
To learn the lessons that Katherine covered, you need to buy the book. But some interesting facts that she included in the talk were
- Of the people surveyed in the Dove campaign, only 2% considered themselves beautiful.
- 80% of girls are on diets.
- A child will hear the word, “no” 400 times a day.
Another point of interest was Katherine’s weeding of friends. She revealed that among her college chums there was one who didn’t seem to fit. No, the friend was not vicious or mean. Katherine just had a gut feeling that the friend was not someone she wanted to include in her “friend box.” At first she hesitated to do anything, but eventually she gave in to her inner feeling. It wasn’t easy, but she discovered that her life was better for it.
As for Christopher, he was talking to McCullough students about drug and alcohol abuse. Ah, come on. Teenagers listening and paying attention to someone old enough to be their grandfather. . . and a good-looking one at that?
Yes! After all, he had his first drink when he was 12 and his dad, actor Peter Lawford, introduced him to cocaine. So, yes, he can relate to teenagers experiencing the aura, intrigue and involvement with “stuff.”
Despite his voice starting to getting hoarse, he and Caron Chief Clinical Officer Mike Early arrived at Barnes & Noble on Northwest Highway at 6:30 for a 7 p.m. talk and book signing. As Mike parked the car, Chris got out and asked, “Where can we get a cup of coffee?”
No problem. He and Mike settled at a table in the B&N coffee bar.
As guests gathered upstairs, Chris greeted friends tableside.
At 7, the rows of chairs were filled, with others standing around the edges. Guests were all ages and sexes and most held Chris’s book. Downstairs Chris was delayed when his nephew/SMU student Anthony McKelvy showed up with some friends. Immediately, uncle and nephew hugged.
A few minutes later Chris and the boys rode the escalator to the upper level and the waiting fans.
Caron Texas’s Director of Marking and Community Relations Amara Durham introduced the best-selling author, listing his numerous accomplishments including graduating from Boston College of Law School and achieving his master’s certification in clinical psychology from Harvard Medical School.
Despite the long day, Chris’s energy level and passion went into overdrive. He was also very open about himself and his family.
On November 23, 1963, he told the crowd, his life changed forever. Before that day he had a wonderful life in California playing on the beach in the sunshine. He had two parents and three younger sisters. Then his uncle, President John Kennedy, was assassinated. His parents separated soon afterwards. According to Chris, his parents were only staying together for the sake of appearances until John was out of office. His death only sped up the process. The marriage ended. Pat packed up the children and moved to New York City. The change of family dynamics and the scene were a real shock to the young boy. And, of course, it didn’t help that Pat was drinking a lot and Peter was sinking into a whirlpool of alcohol and drug abuse.
After years of struggling with his own lifestyle of alcohol and drugs, Chris finally got sober and discovered that sober people could be interesting and fun, too. But he felt there was still more to do. He eventually wrote his first book that provided a platform for him to speak to groups and be on TV and radio to get his message across.
That book did so well that he decided to write a second one. So, he talked with 100 of the leading experts in the field and made amazing discoveries. According to Chris,
- “This book provides guidance for identifying and treating the seven common habits that have the potential to become Toxic compulsions. In alphabetical order, they are: alcohol; drugs (both legal and illegal); eating disorders; gambling; hoarding; sex and pornography; smoking.”
- “Only an estimated one in 10 persons with an alcohol or drug addiction problem ever receives treatment. This one in 10 ratio may also apply to the other five Toxic compulsions addressed in this book, but may be even lower due to the hidden nature of these problems. As a direct consequence of this lack of treatment, aside from the human cost of deaths and illnesses associated with the undiagnosed and untreated conditions, every nation’s health care system is burdened with excessive and rapidly growing costs.”
Within weeks of publication, the book was on the best sellers list.
As Chris talked, no one left. When it came to questions, he answered one and all in the same honest, direct fashion that he had demonstrated throughout his talks in Dallas. He told how none of his sisters suffered from addiction, but that couldn’t be said for others in the extended family. Chris half-joking said that he’d offered rides to Caron to several members of the family, but none had taken him up on the offer.
After answering the last question, it was time to autograph books. The line formed almost immediately with Chairman of Caron Texas Board of Directors Jim Hutcheson at the front.
Editor’s note: Recently Texas author Larry McMurtry wrote off Dallas as second rate. During Katherine’s and Chris’s stays in Dallas, the audiences could not have been more first-class. At both The Life’s Lesson luncheon and Lawford’s book signing, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. In neither case did anyone ask off-point questions. No one asked Katherine about her parents’ headline-making marital problems. No one asked Chris about specific individuals within the well-known family who had made news via abuses and scandals.
This is only brought up because both Katherine and Chris seemed braced for potential public interrogations a la the National Enquirer. Instead they were treated with respect, interest and appreciation.