When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going. – Joe Kennedy


“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Joseph Patrick Kennedy was a prominent American politician, investor, and businessman. He is known for his political prominence and that of his children. He was a patriarch of the Irish-American Kennedy family, such as Senator Edward M “Ted” Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy.

“When the situation gets tough, the unwilling work the hardest and never give up.” The proverb is attributed to Joseph P. Kenney, the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. He was recently popularized by the song of Billy Ocean, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This saying has been found in several forms [1].

Joe Kennedy

Who Was Joe Kennedy?

Joseph Patrick Kennedy was born on September 6, 1888, into a political family in East Boston, Massachusetts. He made a large fortune as an investor in the stock and commodity markets. Later, he reinvested his profits by investing in real estate and a wide range of industries and businesses in the United States.

During World War I, he was Assistant General Manager of Bethlehem Steel shipyard in the Boston area. There he met Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Under Secretary of the Navy at the time. Also, he made huge profits by refinancing and reorganizing several Hollywood studios. Later, he was a part of the Irish Catholic Community and Democratic Party.

Joe Kennedy had a complete family with Rose Kennedy and had nine children. During his later life, he was involved in his son’s political career. Three of Kennedy’s sons achieved distinguished political office such as [2]:

  • John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), served as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and 35th President of the United States.
  • Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) served as States Attorney General United States and United States Senator from New York.
  • Ted Kennedy (1932-2009) served as the United States Senator from Massachusetts.

Death of Joe Kennedy

On December 19, 1961, at 73, Kennedy suffered a stroke and luckily survived it. But he was paralyzed on the right side. Subsequently, he suffered from aphasia, which affected his ability to speak. He remained mentally alert, and therapy helped him to regain function. Also, he could walk with a cane, and his speech improved too.

Eventually, Joe Kennedy began to experience muscle weakness that forced him to use a wheelchair. In 1964, he was taken to the Institutes for the Realization of Human Potential in Philadelphia [3]. Joe Kenney made a last public appearance after his son John F. Kennedy’s death via filmed message for the country. Joe Kennedy died at the age of 81 on November 18, 1969.

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going

Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” said Joseph Patrick Kennedy. The saying has been used in several forms. This quote means that when you have problems or hardships in your lives, stand before them with courage and work hard to solve them. It has been used as a motto by football coaches. 

  • The earliest occurrence was from Thomas Won’t Let Hornets Scrimmage in the Good Evening column. It was published in The Corpus Christi Times on September 15, 1953.
  • John Thomas was the coach of the Green Hornets for 17 years. He tore down the house as he mixed philosophy with wit and used the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” in his speech [4].
  • Another use of this quote was done in a series of TV shows in which Francis William Leahy was a coach. In the dialogue, he used “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” as a football motto.
  • “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” was used in a song in 1985. This song was co-written and recorded by an English singer Billy Ocean. It was a theme song for The Jewel of the Nile. 
  • An album by English new wave band Bow Wow Wow was titled “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. 

Other Famous Quotes of Joe Kennedy

Sr. No. Quotes  Topics 
1 Becoming a very dangerous proposition, an out and out demagogue. Compliments, Insults, and Rebukes
2 The Betrayal of the American People by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Compliments, Insults, and Rebukes
3 Democracy is finished in England. Democracies and Republics
4 Don’t get mad, get even. Politics, Politicians, Political Campaigns, Fund Raising
5 I was born here. My children were born here. What the hell do I have to do to be called an American? Immigration And Emigration
6 If I am called an appeaser because I oppose the country’s entry into the present war, I gladly accept the title. War and Peace 
7 If there’s such a thing as a thousand percent isolationist, I’m that. Foreign Policy, World and International Affairs
8 It’s not what you are that counts; it’s what people think you are. Public Relations and Image
9 Politics is a sucker’s game.  Politics, Politicians and Political Campaigns, Fund Raising
10 The hardest trader I’ve ever run against. Compliments, Insults, and Rebukes
11 War is the work of men, and being the work of men is not inevitable. War and Peace
12 We’re going to sell Jack like soap flakes. There are no accidents in politics. Politics, Politicians and Political Campaigns, Fund Raising
13 Winston Churchill is an entirely bellicose individual. No long-term views. Compliments, Insults, and Rebukes
14 You could never write for me. You’re too liberal. But you’re fine for Jack. Miscellaneous
15 You know that no son of mine could be a goddamn liberal. Liberals and Conservatives
16 Don’t buy a single vote more than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide. 
17 If there’s anything I’d hate as a son-in-law, it’s an actor, and if there’s anything I think I’d hate worse than an actor as a son-in-law, it’s an English actor. 
18 More men die of jealousy than of cancer.
19 We must get into the picture business. This is a new industry and a gold mine. It looks like another telephone industry. Business, Commerce, and Finance. 
20 Whenever you’re sitting across from some important person, always picture him sitting there in a suit of long red underwear. That’s the way I always operated in business. Business, Commerce, and Finance. 

Figure 1: Data by Quote.org [5]

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going – Be Strong

When the going gets tough, the tough get going said by Joseph Patrick Kennedy justifies the tragedies he has faced over the years. Even though he made his fortune by investing in different business industries, what could be good when your son is assassinated? His son Jack was shot and killed in 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Also, when he got a stroke in 1961, Kennedy remained active and interested in his grown children’s life. However, tragedy continued to plague his last years. When the going gets tough, the tough get going means that when there are problems in one’s life, one should be able to work hard to solve them. Instead of giving up, they should be facing them with courage. As the saying goes, courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear [6].


1] When the going gets tough… – phrase meaning and origin. (2001). Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/11/messages/444.html

2] Manchester, W. (2021, November 14). Joseph P. Kennedy. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-P-Kennedy

3] People: May 22, 1964 – TIME. (1964). Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://web.archive.org/web/20090902075512/http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,871108,00.html

4] Tréguer, P. origin of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get(s) going’. Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://wordhistories.net/2019/01/02/going-gets-tough/

5] 29 Joseph P. Kennedy – Inspiring quotes at Quote.org. Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://quote.org/author/joseph-p-kennedy-36675

6] Joseph Kennedy. Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://biography.yourdictionary.com/joseph-kennedy


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