Jean Kennedy Smith death: JFK’s sister and envoy dies aged 92

Jean Kennedy Smith, an American diplomat and the youngest sister of former President John F Kennedy, has died. She was 92.

Ms Smith was appointed an ambassador to Ireland under former President Bill Clinton, a post she served in for five years, and played an instrumental role in northern Ireland’s peace process.

Ms Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P and Rose Kennedy, and she tragically outlived several of them by decades.

She married a Kennedy family financial adviser and future White House chief of staff, Stephen Edward Smith, in 1956, and 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-Senator John F Kennedy as he 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 Mr 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 ambassador, she helped persuade Mr 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 towards the IRA “unfortunate” and said she thought history would credit the Clinton administration with helping the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said in 1998 that “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.”

In 1996, though, Ms 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, Ms 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 criticised by Irish bishops for joining in the Protestant communion service.

“Religion, after all, is about bringing people together,” Ms Smith told The Irish Times. “We all have our own way of going to God.”

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.

“We’re the first father-daughter ambassadors,” Ms Smith told The Irish Times in 1997. “So I can’t remember a time when we were not an actively political family.”

In 1974, Ms 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.

Ms Smith and her husband had four children, Stephen Jr., William, Amanda and Kym. Her husband died in 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 

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