Jean Kennedy Smith, the last living sibling of John F. Kennedy, has died at the age of 92, per the Associated Press. Smith’s daughter told the New York Times that she passed away at her home in Manhatten on Wednesday. The eighth of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, Smith’s career would see her take on the roles of diplomat, activist, and humanitarian. Smith also played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process during her time as the United States Ambassador to Ireland.
Smith Shunned The Spotlight For Most Of Her Life
Smith was born on February 20, 1928, in Boston, Massachusetts. As the eighth of nine children born to the iconic Kennedy family, Smith’s siblings included U.S. President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In her 2016 memoir, The Nine of Us, Smith reflected upon her childhood and admitted that it was still hard for her to grasp how the people she simply saw as her siblings would become such influential figures.
“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. At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration.”
Despite the stature her siblings achieved, Smith preferred a quieter life and shunned the spotlight. She married Kennedy family financial adviser and future White House chief of staff Stephen Edward Smith in 1956, and the couple would remain together until his death in 1990. They had two sons together, attorney Stephen Edward Smith Jr. and physician William Kennedy Smith, and adopted two daughters, Amanda Smith, and Kym Smith.
While Smith never ran for office, she was dedicated to the political ambitions of her brothers. She campaigned on John F. Kennedy’s 1946 Congressional campaign, 1952 Senate campaign, and 1960 Presidential campaign, knocking on doors across the country.
Smith Played An Important Role In The Northern Ireland Peace Process
In 1993, Smith became the United States Ambassador to Ireland after being appointed by President Bill Clinton. Her great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was born in Dunganstown in County Wexford and she had joined her brother during his presidential visit to the country in 1963, a trip she described as “one of the most moving experiences of my own life.”
Her time as ambassador coincided with a period of immense change on the island, as the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland moved towards a peace process. In 1994, Smith played a role in convincing President Clinton to grant Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who had links to the Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary organization, a visa to the United States. The move was controversial at the time and was made in defiance of the United Kingdom government, but Smith felt that history would look kindly upon the decision.
In 1998, following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement that ended much of the violence of the conflict, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern credited the move, saying “it is not an understatement to say that if [the visa for Adams] didn’t happen at the time, perhaps other events may not have fallen into place.”
Smith stepped down from her role in that same year. She was granted Irish citizenship by Irish President Mary McAleese for “distinguished service to the nation.”
Smith was also lauded for her humanitarian work. In 1974, she set up the international organization Very Special Arts, now known as the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The organization focuses on creating arts and education programs for young people and adults with disabilities. The organization currently operates in 52 countries.
For her work with people with disabilities, in 2011 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama.