Jean Ann Kennedy Smith (February 20, 1928 – June 17, 2020) was an American diplomat, activist, humanitarian, and author who served as United States Ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998. She is a member of the Kennedy family, the eighth of nine children and youngest daughter born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, and was their last surviving and longest-lived child. Her siblings included President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
As Ambassador to Ireland, Smith was reportedly instrumental in the Northern Ireland peace process as President Bill Clinton's representative in Dublin. She was heavily criticized after urging the U.S. State Department to grant a visa to Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, although her family claimed that this step influenced the Irish Republican Army in its declaration of a ceasefire in 1994. However, Adams has claimed that it was President Clinton who led the Northern Ireland peace process and that during the process, Smith relied on advice from an influential Belfast priest. President of Ireland Mary McAleese conferred honorary Irish citizenship on Smith in 1998 in recognition of her service to the country.
Smith is the founder of Very Special Arts (VSA), an internationally recognized non-profit dedicated to creating a society where people with disabilities can engage with the arts. In 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama for her work with VSA and with people with disabilities.
1 Early years
2.1 Political involvement
2.2 Very Special Arts
2.3 U.S. Ambassador to Ireland
2.3.1 Sinn Féin controversy
3 Awards and later work
5 Personal life
7 External links
Jean Ann Kennedy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on her elder sister Kathleen's eighth birthday. Kennedy was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Kennedy. Her 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. She has been described as the shyest and most guarded of the Kennedy children. She attended Manhattanville College (at the time a Society of the Sacred Heart school, and still located in Purchase, New York), where she befriended future sisters-in-law Ethel Skakel (who married Jean's older brother Robert in 1950) and Joan Bennett (who married Jean's younger brother Ted in 1958). Kennedy graduated from Manhattanville in 1949.
Kennedy (known as Jean Kennedy Smith following her 1956 marriage to Stephen Edward Smith) was intricately involved with the political career of her older brother John. She worked on his 1946 Congressional campaign, his 1952 Senate campaign, and ultimately his presidential campaign in 1960. She and her siblings helped Kennedy knock on doors in primary states like Texas and Wisconsin and on the campaign trail played the role of sister more than volunteer, citing her parents' family lesson of "working together for something."
Smith and her husband were present at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, during the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy after he had won the Democratic 1968 California U.S. presidential primary.
Very Special Arts
In 1974, Smith founded Very Special Arts, now known as the Department of VSA and Accessibility at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. VSA provides arts and education programming for youth and adults with disabilities. As of 2011, VSA's programs reportedly served "some 276,000 students in 43 states and 52 countries". Smith traveled extensively throughout the world on behalf of VSA to advocate for greater inclusion in the arts for people with disabilities. Her book, Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists, co-written with George Plimpton, was published by Random House in April 1993.
U.S. Ambassador to Ireland
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Smith the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, continuing a legacy of diplomacy begun by her father, who was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom during the administration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As ambassador, Smith played a pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace process. As a demonstration of her ecumenical views, on at least one occasion she received communion in a cathedral of the Church of Ireland, an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion.
President of Ireland Mary McAleese conferred honorary Irish citizenship on Smith in 1998 in recognition of her service to the country. During a ceremony, McAleese praised Smith's "fixedness of purpose". Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern told Smith, "You have helped bring about a better life for everyone throughout Ireland."
On July 4, 1998, about three months after the historic Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998, Smith retired as ambassador to Ireland.
Sinn Féin controversy
In 1994, Smith came to the forefront of American foreign policy when she championed the granting of a U.S. visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Smith has been lauded for her work in the region, but was criticized for supporting the visa. Her family have claimed this was a key step in the success of the peace process in the years that followed. In her brother Ted's memoir, he described that "Jean was convinced that Adams no longer believed that continuing the armed struggle was the way to achieve the IRA's objective of a united Ireland," and that "It took only a couple of hours' conversation with Jean after we landed to discover what was the most important thing on her mind – the opportunity for a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland stalemate." However, Irish Central later acknowledged that President Clinton had in fact made a promise during his Presidential campaign to grant Adams a visa. Adams also told the BBC in 2019 that Clinton led the Northern Ireland peace process and that during the peace process, Smith was following advice from west Belfast priest Father Alex Reid, stating "He (Fr Reid) was talking to her (Kennedy-Smith) on the side and she was talking to her brother Teddy (Kennedy)."
In March 1996, Smith was reprimanded by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher for retaliating against two Foreign Service Officers at the Embassy of the United States in Dublin, Ireland, who had objected to her recommendation to the U.S. government to grant Adams the visa and had sent in a "Dissent Channel" message. The Foreign Service Journal called the U.S. State Department's report on the matter "scathingly critical". Her management of the embassy came under criticism by the Boston Herald in December 1996 when she reportedly pressured embassy staff to spend taxpayer money to refurbish her residence in Dublin. Smith was also allegedly to have violated U.S. conflict-of-interest laws. The United States Department of Justice issued a press release on September 22, 2000, announcing that she had paid US$5,000 in a civil settlement to resolve the allegations.
Awards and later work
Kennedy Smith (left) with Victoria Reggie Kennedy in 2008
Smith has won several awards for her work in Ireland and in the disability community. She was awarded honorary citizenship by the Government of Ireland in 1998 and in 2007, Smith received the Gold Medal Award from the Éire Society of Boston, for her peace efforts in Northern Ireland and for her humanitarian work with disabled children. In 2009, Smith and Ted Kennedy were honored with the Tipperary Peace Prize for their support of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
In February 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for her work with people with disabilities.
On March 15, 2011, Smith was inducted into Irish America magazine's Irish America Hall of Fame.
Smith was listed as Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith in the credits of the 2012 movie Lincoln for portraying a "woman shouter".
In October 2016, Smith published The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy, a memoir of the Kennedy clan.
On May 19, 1956, Jean Kennedy married businessman Stephen Edward Smith in a small chapel of the Roman Catholic St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. The Smiths maintained a lower profile than some other members of the extended Kennedy family. The Smiths had two sons, attorney Stephen Edward Smith Jr. and physician William Kennedy Smith. They adopted two daughters, Amanda Smith and Kym Smith.
Stephen Edward Smith died of cancer on August 19, 1990. The following year, their younger son, William, was accused of rape in Florida, but was acquitted after a highly publicized trial.
Smith's elder sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died on August 11, 2009. Smith did not attend Eunice's funeral on August 14, 2009, choosing to stay with their brother Ted, who was ill; he died on August 25, 2009, leaving her as the last surviving child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Smith attended Ted Kennedy's funeral on August 29, 2009.
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