The Kennedys

Jean Kennedy Smith carries on as last sibling

By A. James Memmott

August 30, 2009 at 11:52am

At the funeral of brother Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Saturday, Jean Kennedy Smith was praised as “a sister everyone in the world would love to have in (her) devotion.”

The last surviving child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, Smith, 81, was often in the background, supporting her brothers John, Robert and Edward, as they rose to high political office.

But in the 1990s, as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, she played a key part in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Citing that experience, Smith endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency in April 2008, praising his ability to rise above partisan division.

“He offers the right moral vision for America in our dangerously divided but increasingly interconnected world,” Smith wrote in the Huffington Post.

The death of Smith’s brother Edward on Aug. 25 at age 77, followed the death of her sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver on Aug. 11 at age 88.

Smith rented a house on Cape Cod this summer to be near her brother in his last days. Faced with a difficult choice, she decided to stay at Edward’s side rather than Eunice Shiver’s funeral.

Born on Feb. 20, 1928, Smith was the eighth of nine children, four years older than Edward, the youngest Kennedy child.

A graduate of Manhattanville College, she married Stephen Edward Smith in 1956.

Stephen Smith became a force in the Kennedy family, watching over its money for decades and serving as the manager for the three brothers’ presidential runs, John in 1960, Robert in 1968 and Edward in 1980.

Politics brought pain - John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963 and then Robert’s in 1968 in Los Angeles, on a night when Jean and Stephen Kennedy were in attendance.

Those deaths followed the loss of her brother Joseph Jr., whose plane was shot down in World War II and her sister Kathleen, who died in a plane crash in 1948.

These losses and her late sister Rosemary’s struggle with disabilities have shaped Jean Smith’s philanthropic efforts.

She and her husband were instrumental in the establishment of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.

And in 1974, Jean Smith founded VSA arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts. The organization celebrates the accomplishments of arts with disabilities.

Jean and Stephen Smith, who died in 1990 of cancer, had four children, Stephen Edward Smith Jr., William Kennedy Smith, Amanda Mary Smith and Kym Maria Smith.

In 1991, William Kennedy Smith was acquitted in a highly publicized rape trial in Florida. Now a physician, he is the founder of the Center for International Rehabilitation, an organization that assists people with disabilities worldwide.

The group is an offshoot of Physicians Against Land Mines, an organization also founded by William Kennedy Smith.

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