ACROSS THE GENERATIONS
Bill, Annmarie, and Nora Kennedy open their hearts
and their philanthropic spirit to help ‘the least among us’
For Bill, Annmarie, and Nora Kennedy, it’s all about community, about giving back and treating everyone – no matter an individual’s means and station – with compassion, dignity, and respect. While the term “family values” has morphed into cliché among cynics, the words have never been cliché to the Kennedys.
Born and raised in Dorchester’s Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood, Bill Kennedy attributes much of his success – he has been lauded as one of Boston Magazine’s “Super Lawyers” – and credits his concern for others to his family and to St. Peter’s parish. His roots have helped shape his career and his charitable work.
Today, Kennedy is a partner in the prestigious Seaport law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish, specializing in the corporate and transactions department and serving as chair of the firm’s Public Policy group and as a member of the Public Finance section. He is also immersed in the firm’s “very active pro bono program providing legal services to those who need access to our legal system.”
Kennedy earned his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and his law degree cum laude from Suffolk University, where he was an editor of the Law Review. His legal career started in 1980 in private practice, and he has taught as an adjunct professor at Suffolk Law, where he founded the university’s Legal Assistance Bureau. He served as Chairman for the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners.
In terms of the law and public service, Bill Kennedy has covered the gamut with the skill and breadth of knowledge that has cemented his status as a Boston Super Lawyer. He served as chief of staff and chief legal counsel to former Massachusetts Speaker of the House Thomas M. Finneran. Prior to that, he took on the duties of chief of staff and chief legal counsel to the House Ways and Means Committee and was an attorney for the Executive Council. He also served as an assistant clerk at the Mass Supreme Judicial Court.
A chance meeting, a teaming up
A cum laude J.D. was not the only life-changing achievement Kennedy found at Suffolk. While riding the Red Line in his final month of law school, he met another Suffolk student, Annmarie Looney, who was working in Boston and pursuing a degree in education. The rest, as the adage goes, is history. They married in 1984 and bought a house in St. Ann’s parish a mile or two down Adams Street from Meetinghouse Hill. Later, they moved to Quincy and spent summers at a cottage in Falmouth.
Like Bill, Annmarie Looney Kennedy was born and raised in Dorchester. The family lived on Edwin Street in St. Mark’s parish in the house that had been in the family since 1908. Again, like Bill, she says that her family and the parish were tightly entwined. “My cousins – the McCrevans and the Joyces – were our extended family in the parish,” she says. “My parents, Leo and Margaret Looney, were always involved in charitable work for the parish. My father was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and often he would take my brother and me with him on calls to deliver food, clothing, and other necessities to local families who were having a hard time. It was something that people just did in the parish.”
That “something” has stayed with Annmarie Kennedy in her family and professional life. She attained her master’s in education, and after fifteen years of teaching at Katherine Gibbs, she went on to Quincy High School, where she has been educating grades 9-12 for the last 20 years.
Her core belief that every child deserves a good education has shaped her community service on the board of St. John Paul II Catholic Academy- Lower Mills, the former St. Gregory’s School in Dorchester, with the Carmelite nuns, and with numerous other laudable causes. The virtue of being a person for others also took root in her brother, Dr. John Looney, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton.
Bill Kennedy is quick to point out that giving back to the community is a package deal with the Kennedys and that Annmarie and Nora are every bit as involved as he is.
An enduring parental choice
Nora Kennedy is equally quick to credit her parents for instilling in her the importance of family, education, and community service. “Because I’m an only child, my parents had two choices in raising me. They could have let relatives and neighbors babysit me when they went out to charity events, political fundraisers, parish meetings, and all sorts of other community functions. They often took me with them. They chose to make me a part of all this from an early age, to expose me to the world they lived in. Through them, I met so many wonderful people.
“I learned fast how lucky I was and how so many other kids and families needed help. My parents’ belief that every kid deserves an education and a fair chance to succeed has stayed with me. I can’t stress enough how much my mom’s compassion, dedication, and selflessness to her students in and out of the classroom has taught me that everyone deserves the chance to reach their full potential.”
She added, “An important thing for people to understand about my dad is something he has said to me just about every day when I was growing up – ‘treat people like you want to be treated.’”
Nora has the same deep sense of place and community that her parents have. “In a lot of ways,” she says, “the Kennedys and so many other families can trace their lives up and down Dot Ave and all across Dorchester and Southie, where I live now.”
Bill Kennedy seconds that sentiment when he recalls how a drive with his late sister Linda, who was battling cancer, from Brigham & Women’s Hospital to Hanover punctuated the closeness he and his sisters had forged in and around Meetinghouse Hill. He speaks wistfully of how the route he chose took them past many of the Dorchester sites of their youth.
“A lot has changed in Dorchester and Southie,” says Nora, “ but you can still walk around and see people you’ve known all your life. That sense of camaraderie and real community still exists. As a kid, my grandparents were within walking distance. Sunday family dinners were important. It was that same way for my parents when they were growing up – generations of close-knit families and close-knit communities. Families used their neighborhood and the city as a backdrop.”
A graduate of Boston College, Nora is the chief of staff for John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk, and she is involved in numerous charitable and community programs such as Scholar Athletes. She says that she and her parents try at all times to honor the Jesuit motto – “Men and Women for others.”
“Those words are a key to how people should live their lives,” she says. “Giving back is a part of who you are. It’s not a burden. My parents have always lived by that motto, and I try to do so, too.
His footprints are everywhere
Along with his professional achievements, Bill Kennedy’s philanthropic work for Catholic Charities, Project Bread, and a vast array of other community and educational efforts has marked his presence in the community. He is currently a trustee at Emmanuel College at St. John Paul II Catholic Academy and a former trustee at the University of Massachusetts. His numerous civic awards include recognition by the Children’s Trust Fund for his years of service, and by Holy Cross as the “Crusader of the Year.” He was also named “Father of the Year” by the American Diabetes Association.
In May 2017, he was awarded Catholic Charities’ Justice and Compassion Award “for his inspirational leadership and solidarity with the most at-risk and underserved members of our community.” He was introduced by his daughter and honored at the banquet by his friends Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Governor Charlie Baker. “For over 40 years,” Pilot reporter Mark Labbe wrote, “Mr. Kennedy has worked tirelessly to better the lives of the less fortunate in and around the Greater Boston area.”
More important than the award to Bill Kennedy and his family was the fact that the event raised some $1 million for Catholic Charities.
Generations of Community and Place
The impact of Bill Kennedy’s Boston Irish roots and his sense of community materialized in Dorchester, and they have been his moral compass throughout his life. The same holds true for Annmarie and Nora.
“My Mom, Mary, and my Dad, William, raised my six sisters and me to work hard, treat others right, and help others out,” says Kennedy. “Virtually the entire neighborhood was like that. Everything revolved around the parish – St. Peter’s, family, and neighbors. My Aunt Bertha, my mom’s sister, lived next door to us with her family, six kids. Everyone knew everybody else in the neighborhood. It gave you a sense of place and also a sense of purpose.”
Kennedy speaks with pride at how his mother was a “Rosie the Riveter” at the Fore River Shipyard during World War II. After serving in the war, his father became a welder at Fore River. Mary Kennedy later worked for many years for the city of Boston. Today, her son notes, “she is 93 and living at the Royal Braintree Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in Weymouth Landing.”
Kennedy knows that the spirit of giving back is a legacy from his parents. “They were always watching out for everyone in the neighborhood, and just about everyone we knew did the same,” he reflects. “We had such great parish priests and this incredible sense of community – everyone pulling together.
Kennedy’s religious beliefs make up his very core. He believes that they were shaped and strengthened by the “many compassionate people I’ve met along the way from my Dorchester childhood to Holy Cross and my professional life.”
He considers his undergraduate years at Holy Cross as transformative. “The friends I made at Holy Cross have been my friends for life,” Kennedy said. “The school’s Jesuit tradition was perfect for me, and the necessity to give back to the community is so essential to the school and the graduates it sends out. Getting involved with those in need is a core lesson one gets at Holy Cross. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t serve in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Some of my college friends did that.”
Kennedy fondly reveals something of a “secret weapon” he brought to Holy Cross and, later, to Suffolk Law School. “My mom and dad were always involved in my education. My mom typed my Holy Cross papers and then my Law Review articles. I was always getting professors’ compliments for how good my spelling and my grammar were. I owe a lot of thanks to my mom for that.”
Asked what the Boston Irish Honors Award means to the family, Bill Kennedy says, “It a special one to us. I’ve been a part of the event for past honorees who are not just people I admire, but longtime friends in many cases. The tradition that Ed Forry and his family have created with the award recognizes that so many Boston Irish families have never let success turn them away from the more important work of reaching out to the entire community and helping others.”
You Can Go Back Home
Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” The Kennedys have proven things to be otherwise in their case. Recently, Bill and Annmarie decided that with Nora out on her own and with her career in full swing, the house in Quincy was too big for the two of them. “We decided it was time to downsize. We looked at places in downtown Boston, but ended up buying a condo in a great local building somewhere else – the old Baker Chocolate Factory, in Dorchester.
“It feels right. Lower Mills is a great place to live.”