Jean Kennedy Smith, last surviving sibling of JFK, dies at 92

Jean Kennedy Smith was a US ambassador to Ireland during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
Jean Kennedy Smith was a US ambassador to Ireland during the administration of President Bill Clinton.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving member of a political family's remarkable generation that produced three US senators, one of whom became president, has died. She was 92.

Her daughter Kym told the New York Times that Mrs Smith died on Wednesday (June 17) at her longtime home in Manhattan.

Mrs Smith's five-year tenure as US ambassador to Ireland during the administration of President Bill Clinton added to her family's long resume of public service. Brothers John, Robert and Edward Kennedy all won election to the Senate, with John going on to the presidency. Sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics, and Eunice's husband, Sargent Shriver, was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1972.

The deaths of Eunice and Edward Kennedy in a two-week span in August 2009 left Jean as the last survivor among the nine children born to Joseph Kennedy, onetime US ambassador to Britain, and his wife, Rose. She was their youngest daughter and eighth child.

She was the founder of Very Special Arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, which supports arts programmes for people with disabilities. She profiled artists who overcame disabilities in "Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists", a 1993 book she wrote with George Plimpton.

RILED OFFICIALS

Mrs Smith accompanied her brother John on his presidential visit to Ireland, the Kennedy ancestral homeland, in 1963, five months before he was assassinated.

As ambassador, she riled some American officials by appearing to side with Northern Ireland in its longstanding, violent revolt against British rule. She helped persuade the Clinton administration to permit a 1994 visit to the US by Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which established power-sharing in Northern Ireland, was signed months before she returned to the United States.

Commenting on her role, she said: "I was fortunate to be here to perhaps add momentum to what was happening."

Jean Ann Kennedy was born on Feb 20, 1928, in Brookline, Massachusetts. After attending Sacred Heart schools in Britain and the US, she graduated with a degree in English from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York.

KENNEDY CAMPAIGNS

In 1956, she married Stephen E. Smith, an executive of a transportation company. He managed the campaigns of the Kennedy brothers before his death in 1990. They had four children: William, Stephen Jr., Amanda and Kym.

At the urging of her brother Edward, Mr Clinton nominated Mrs Smith as ambassador to Ireland in 1993. Based in Dublin, she held the role for more than five years as Ireland and Britain moved toward a resolution to decades of sectarian violence.

As ambassador, Mrs Smith visited Northern Ireland - part of Britain, so not part of her portfolio - "to the annoyance of senior American diplomats in London, who felt that it was useless to talk to the Irish Republican Army about peace", the New York Times reported in 1998. In her push for peace, Mrs Smith went so far as to remove embassy personnel who disagreed with her views, earning a reprimand from the US State Department, the Times said.

 

"The Irish people were willing to take me at face value, to give me the benefit of the doubt because I was a Kennedy," she told the newspaper in an interview as her term ended. "I think being a Kennedy was extremely helpful."