Shomporko Desk :Jean Kennedy Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, died Wednesday night in Manhattan, her daughter said. She was 92.
Smith was the eighth of nine children destined to Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, and tragically several of them preceded her in death by decades. Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr., killed in action during the Second World War; Kathleen “Kick’ Kennedy, who passed on in a 1948 plane accident; the president, killed in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, killed in 1968. Sen. Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, that month their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.
Smith, who married Kennedy family financial adviser and future White House chief of staff Stephen Edward Smith in 1956, was viewed for much of her life as a quiet sister who shunned the spotlight. In her memoir “The Nine of Us,” published in 2016, she wrote that for much of the time her childhood seemed “unexceptional.”
“It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,” she explained. “At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration.”
Though she never ran for office, she campaigned for her brothers, travelling the country for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy sought the presidency in 1960. In 1963, she stepped in for a travelling Jacqueline Kennedy and co-hosted a state dinner for Ireland’s president. The same year, she accompanied her brother — the first Irish Catholic president — on his famous visit to Ireland. Their great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was from Dunganstown in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland.
Three decades later, she was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton, who called her “as Irish as an American can be.”
During her confirmation hearing, she recalled the trip with her brother, describing it as “one of the most moving experiences of my own life.”
As an ambassador, she played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. She helped persuade Clinton to grant a controversial visa in 1994 to Gerry Adams, chief of the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party. The move defied the British government, which branded Adams as a terrorist.
She later called criticism of her actions toward the IRA “unfortunate” and said she thought history would credit the Clinton administration with helping the peace process in Northern Ireland.
In 1996, though, Smith had been reprimanded by Secretary of State Warren Christopher for punishing two of her officers who objected to the visa for Adams.
In December 1998, Smith again risked controversy by taking communion in a Protestant cathedral in Dublin, going against the bishops of her Roman Catholic church.
Her decision was a strong personal gesture of support for Irish President Mary McAleese, a fellow Catholic who had been criticized by Irish bishops for joining in the Protestant communion service.
When she stepped down as ambassador in 1998, she received Irish citizenship for “distinguished service to the nation.”
Diplomacy, along with politics, also ran in the Kennedy family. Her father was ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. Niece Caroline Kennedy served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.
In 1974, Smith founded Very Special Arts, an education program that supports artists with physical or mental disabilities. Her 1993 book with George Plimpton, “Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists,” features interviews with disabled artists. The program followed in the footsteps of her sister Eunice’s creation of the Special Olympics for disabled athletes.
Smith and her husband had four children, Stephen Jr., William, Amanda and Kym. Her husband died in 1990.
Photo credit: Paul J. Richards / AFP via Getty Images
News source: AP