As part of the nation's most prominent family, William Kennedy Smith was one of its most inconspicuous members.

That changed Easter weekend when a 29year-old woman accused Smith of raping her at the Kennedy estate. She had accompanied him home for drinks after meeting him, his uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and a cousin at a nightclub.

Smith, a 30-year-old medical student at Georgetown University in Washington, has denied any wrongdoing. But police said Tuesday they believed the woman's account and were recommending Smith be charged with rape.

The Smiths, though powerful within the Democratic dynasty, were publicly the least recognized. While the children of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Edward Kennedy grew up in the spotlight, the four Smith kids were spared scrutiny.

Smith's mother is Jean Kennedy Smith, the youngest of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy's five daughters.

He grew up in New York City, where his father, Stephen, managed the family's fortunes - and misfortunes. The elder Smith was regarded as the "fixer" in the family, a master of damage control during crises such as Sen. Kennedy's 1969 accident at Chappaquiddick. Stephen Smith died last summer.

As a Kennedy, Smith summered at the family compound on Cape Cod and spent spring vacations at the Palm Beach estate. But the good life was tempered by the tragedies that continually befell the Kennedys.

Smith once said that he had vague memories of his slain uncles, "but the strongest childhood impression I have are of funerals."

Smith is close to Sen. Kennedy. "After what he's gone through publicly and privately, I'm in a state of awe for the man," Smith said in 1980.

At 6 feet 3 inches tall and better looking than his pictures indicate, "he doesn't suffer for dates," Georgetown classmate Kathleen Albrecht said. She said Smith is funny and nice but has a moody streak.