Jean Kennedy Smith, the second youngest, and the last survivor, of the nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, died on June 18 at her home in Manhattan. She was 92.
Ms. Smith, a graduate of Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, married a shipping executive, Stephen E. Smith, in 1956, a time when her brother, John F. Kennedy, was making waves as a prospective presidential candidate.
Ms. Smith, who had gained wide notice when she and her sisters campaigned for their brother in his successful 1946 congressional run, and her husband were prominent players in the Kennedy entourage when JFK won the White House in 1960.
Jean Kennedy Smith remained active in public life during and after the deaths by assassination of her brothers Jack and Bobby, with a special interest in people with disabilities. She created Very Special Arts in 1974 as an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The program aimed at “providing people of all ages living with disabilities the opportunity to learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts.”
In 2011, President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her advocacy work.
In 1993, Ms. Smith was appointed US ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton. She served there for some five years during which she assisted in the peace effort with Northern Ireland generally, and specifically when she recommended that the United States grant a visa to the highly controversial Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams.
She was honored as Irish American of the Year by “Irish America” magazine in 1995 and granted honorary Irish citizenship by Irish President Mary McAleese in 1998.
Ms. Smith’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, and the JFK Library Foundation published the following statement on her passing:
“Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith was an inspiration and a role model for our family. She played a central role in the Irish Peace Process, was a longtime Trustee at the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts, and carried forward our family’s work on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities as the founder of Very Special Arts.
“With her husband, Stephen E. Smith, and her beloved brother Ted, she played a vital role in the life of the JFK Library, helping to establish it on Columbia Point and generously supporting the JFK Library Foundation.
“Jean was always coming up with good ideas - and making sure that other people executed them. She was the person who first suggested that the
JFK Library Foundation present an annual Profile in Courage Award as a way of honoring her brother’s memory. Thirty years later, the Award has become recognized as the “Nobel Prize for Politics” and is her legacy as well.
“Her son, Stephen Kennedy Smith, the author of “JFK: A Vision for America,” carries on her work as a member of the Foundation’s board of directors.