Jean Kennedy Smith, who was the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy and who as a U.S. ambassador played a key role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, has died, relatives said Thursday. She was 92.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Smith’s nephew, confirmed her death Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. He was among the family members and prominent politicians who highlighted Smith’s work in Ireland as one of her enduring legacies.
“She took an enormous risk to her own reputation and stature as an ambassador,” Kennedy said. “Any other ambassador at that time may not have been able to pull that off.”
Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and tragically outlived several of them by decades.
Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr., killed in action during World War II; Kathleen “Kick’ Kennedy, who died in a 1948 plane crash; the president, assassinated in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, slain in 1968. Among Smith’s other siblings, Rosemary died in 2005, Patricia in 2006 and Sen. Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, the same month their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver died.
For much of her life, Smith was viewed as a quiet sister who largely shunned the spotlight. She wrote in her memoir that her childhood seemed “unexceptional” much of the time.
“It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation,” Smith 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, Smith campaigned for her brothers, traveling the country for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy as he sought the presidency in 1960.
In 1963, she accompanied JFK — the nation’s first Irish Catholic president — on his famous visit to Ireland. Smith later recalled the trip as “one of the most moving experiences of my own life.” Their great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was from Dunganstown in southeastern Ireland.
Three decades later, in 1993, Smith was appointed ambassador to Ireland by then-President Bill Clinton, who recalled her Thursday as a “tireless champion of peace, inclusion, and dignity.”
Clinton said Smith was “immediately embraced” by the Irish people not just for her famous name, but also because of her “clear passion for peace and willingness to push for it. “