That’s how Robert F. Kennedy Jr. described his late niece, Saoirse Kennedy Hill.
In a touching post on Instagram, Kennedy called her “fierce, both in her love for her family and yearning for justice,” and “a fearless adventurer” who “inspired curiosity and daring in her friends.”
“But her greatest gift was to find humor in everything and to give us all the gift of her laughter — and our own,” he said in the Instagram post. “The gaping hole that she leaves in our family is a wound too large to ever heal.”
The post included photos of Kennedy Hill leaping from a jetty into the water with her cousin, moving into a Boston College dorm, skiing with her cousins on a mountain (while wearing bathing suits), and swinging on a rope into Nantucket Sound.
It was one of many tributes mourning the loss of Kennedy Hill, who died of an apparent overdose Thursday at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis.
Kennedy Hill was the granddaughter of the late US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 during a run for president. Kennedy Hill’s mother was Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter Courtney; her father was Paul Michael Hill, one of four people falsely convicted in the 1974 Irish Republican Army bombings of two pubs.
Patricia Harty, Kennedy Hill’s godmother, said Kennedy Hill “wasn’t afraid to speak out whether it was about her own struggles, or the struggles for democracy that we are facing in this country today.”
Harty said Kennedy Hill had two christenings, one on a yacht off of Greece and the other on Cape Cod. She recalled Kennedy Hill as “a beautiful, lively young child.”
Harty said Kennedy Hill’s godfather was her uncle, Michael Kennedy, who died in a skiing accident in Colorado in December 1997.
“They’ve just had so much tragedy over the years,” Harty said of the Kennedy family. “Sometimes it just seems unbearable. This is just unbearable. I just can’t get my head around that Saoirse is gone.”
Kennedy Hill’s aunt Kerry Kennedy tweeted a photo of her and wrote: “We love you Saoirse.”
Other members of the wider Kennedy clan also expressed their condolences.
Maria Shriver, a first cousin once removed, tweeted a heartfelt message Friday, saying “a brave young woman left our world yesterday” and that the loss “left a gaping hole in the lives of all of those who loved her dearly.”
“Life is fragile and heartbreaking,” Shriver wrote. “It turns upside down in a minute. Love your children, hold them tight. Love your family, hold them close. Love your friends, keep them near. Be gentle with others, as so many are fragile and struggling.”
Life is fragile and heartbreaking. It turns upside down in a minute. Love your children, hold them tight. Love your family, hold them close. Love your friends, keep them near. Be gentle with others, as so many are fragile and struggling. #ivebeenthinking pic.twitter.com/7tOXIAP3FV— Maria Shriver (@mariashriver) August 2, 2019
The late US Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s son, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, another first cousin once removed, also reacted, tweeting out her photo above a tribute message.
“Saoirse will always remain in our hearts,” wrote Kennedy, an outspoken advocate for substance abuse and mental health treatment. “She is loved and will be deeply missed.”
Edward M. Kennedy’s second wife and widow, Vicki Kennedy, retweeted Kennedy’s message and wrote: “Rest in peace, beautiful and loving Saoirse.”
“Saoirse’s sincere account of her depression is a powerful reminder of how so many people suffer alone and feel isolated,” Kennedy tweeted. “I am proud Saoirse was able to be open and tell her story. I encourage everyone to read her words.”
“Feel what she felt. Do whatever you can from your position in life to stop the isolation, the stigma, and the devastating lack of acknowledgement that often leads to tragedy. Families across the nation, including ours, are suffering. We must come out of the shadows.”
Kevin Frazier, host of “Entertainment Tonight,” recalled the time he spent with Saoirse several years ago and posted a photo from that day on Instagram.
“One of my all time favorite days was spent with her and her family at the golf tourney honoring her grandfather,” Frazier wrote in the Instagram post. “Saoirse, her mom and some of the other Kennedy grands were assigned to drive me around so I could do interviews and I had so much fun with the girls. Just looked and found these pictures from that day. I will never forget the dignity and grace of Ethel Kennedy and now it is being tested again. The entire family was so welcoming and gracious. Walking on that compound with Mrs Kennedy and the kids was an unforgettable experience. Now, once again, it is a place associated with tragedy. Saoirse was just a little girl last time I saw her but I will always remember how kind she was to me that day . . . RIP.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh tweeted words of sympathy to Kennedy Hill’s family and said Bostonians were heartbroken about their loss.
“Our hearts break to see a young life lost,” he wrote. “The entire City of Boston’s prayers are with the Kennedy and Hill families during this very sad time.”
Among the other celebrities expressing their sorrow was actress Rosanna Arquette, who responded to the sad news on Twitter.
“My heart breaks for her mother and the whole Kennedy family this is truly tragic and a horrible loss,” she wrote. “Rest In Peace and power.”
Former Arkansas governor Michael Huckabee also expressed his sympathy to the family.
“Heartfelt condolences to the Kennedy family who experience another tragedy w/ death of 22 yr old granddaughter of RFK,” Huckabee tweeted. “So very sad.”
Those words were echoed by former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who tweeted his condolences as well: “Praying for the Kennedy family after the death of 22 year old Saoirse. Hope you will too.”
The Rev. David Costello, rector of St. Stephen’s Catholic church in Boston’s North End, where family matriarch Rose Kennedy’s baptism and funeral were held, said, “We’ll pray for the family that they’ll receive some consolation from God at this difficult time in their lives.”
“She was only 22 — too young to die,” Costello said. “I’m sure everyone is shocked and saddened for the Kennedy family that yet again they are faced with a tragedy in their family.”
At Our Lady of Victory Church on the Cape, where Caroline Kennedy married Edwin Arthur Schlossberg in 1986, Bill Bussiere, a church staff member, said the Kennedy family visits the church “and we respect their privacy as parishioners.”
“It’s just a tragedy for that poor family,” Bussiere said. “They’ve been through so much.”
Along Main Street in the village of Hyannis, near the Kennedy compound, locals and tourists reflected on what the tragedy meant for the family and the community.
Leaving the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum with her husband Friday afternoon, Linda Fichera recalled the family’s “endless” history of sorrow. She said she remembered exactly where she was as a child — recovering from a surgery in the hospital — when President Kennedy was assassinated.
“Every nurse was crying,” recalled Fichera, 69, who was visiting the Cape from New York.
The latest death “just adds to the tragedy,” she said.
“It just seems to be endless,” Fichera said. “They’re still public servants — it just amazes me, their fortitude.”
Fay Lynch was sitting on a bench outside the museum, reading a book called “The Kennedy Women.”
“It’s just a tragic young death,” said Lynch, 50, visiting from Scotland. “They just seem doomed as a family, don’t they?”
Lynch, who remembered that John F. Kennedy Jr. died on her 30th birthday, noted that she and her husband had been at the beach near the Kennedy compound Thursday.
“It was just awful, so sad for the parents and the whole family,” she said.
Courtney Clark, biking down a street near the Kennedy compound, said she lived nearby and was a friend of the family. Growing emotional as she talked, Clark said she watched Kennedy Hill grow up.
“I’m heartbroken,” Clark said. “She was a really lovely, smart person — it’s a tragedy. She’s a good, sweet, vibrant girl.”
Clark said the community is “very close-knit,” and neighbors are “quiet and solemn” right now.
Carol Saunders, director of the Hyannis Public Library, next door to the museum, said news of the death was as sad as if it had happened to any other family or neighbor.
“But you have the added history, which makes it even more emotional,” said Saunders, who lives in Sandwich and has worked at the library since 1972. “We revere this family for their contributions to our society and our government and everything, but the bottom line is they’re people.”
Saunders said she went to a screening of a documentary made by Rory Kennedy, JFK’s niece, just a few weeks ago. At one point, when Kennedy was taking questions, Saunders recalled, Kennedy said, “This is my hometown.”
“If she and other members of the Kennedy family feel that Hyannis Port is their hometown, we feel it as well,” Saunders said.