Tributes paid to former US ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith (92)
American diplomat ‘brought passion and clear values’ to role, President says
Jean Kennedy Smith and former SDLP leader John Hume at the Fulbright Association reception at the US embassy in Dublin in 1997. Photograph: Jack McManus
Tributes have been paid to Jean Kennedy Smith, the former US ambassador to Ireland who died on Wednesday in her Manhattan home aged 92.
Ms Kennedy Smith was the youngest daughter and last surviving sibling of the famed Kennedy family. Her brother, President John F Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, while Bobby Kennedy was shot dead five years later – just two of many tragedies that beset generations of Kennedys.
Ms Kennedy Smith accompanied her brother John during his famous presidential visit to Ireland five months before his assassination.
She was appointed as ambassador to Ireland in 1993 by President Bill Clinton at the suggestion of her brother Senator Ted Kennedy.
She assumed her position at a crucial point in the Northern Ireland peace process, and her contribution to peace in the North was seen as one of her greatest legacies.
During her tenure she visited Northern Ireland in defiance of advice from Washington. She also opened up communications with the IRA, and played a key role in securing a US visa for Gerry Adams and encouraging Bill Clinton to meet Mr Adams at the White House in 1995.
In 1998, Ms Kennedy Smith was conferred with honorary Irish citizenship in recognition of her service to Ireland. In 2009, along with her brother Ted Kennedy, she was awarded the Tipperary Peace Prize for her contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.
She was also heavily involved with charity work, and founded Very Special Arts (VSA), an organisation which aims to engage people with disabilities with the arts. She was awarded the presidential medal of freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011 for her work with the charity.
The US embassy in Dublin said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the passing of the former ambassador.
“Ambassador Kennedy Smith played a pivotal role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and devoted much of her time to moving Northern Ireland from the dark days of violence and despair to the brighter days of peace, reconciliation and partnership,” the embassy said in a statement.
President Michael D Higgins also praised her role and contribution to the peace process.
“She will be forever remembered as the diplomat who had a sense of Irish history and of what had influenced the Irish in the United States. An activist diplomat, she was not afraid to break with convention or explore the limits of her mandate,” he said.
“She brought passion and clear values to her role, providing many of the elements that promoted peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ms Kennedy Smith “proved an extraordinary diplomat during the crucial years leading up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, building lasting relationships with all sides and becoming an instrumental figure in the Northern Ireland peace process.
“Her courageous and determined diplomacy helped to bring peace to our island, built bridges, opened doors to all communities, and to all those striving for peace when peace was not a certainty.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described Ms Kennedy Smith as “a serious and effective player” in the emerging peace process and a “valuable conduit to the White House and the US Congress”.
“She embodied the Kennedy family’s connections with Ireland and was a popular figure for the duration of her tenure,” she said. “She has left her mark on our history, our peace process and her legacy lives on across Ireland.”
Ms Kennedy Smith was predeceased by her husband, Stephen Edward Smith, who died in 1990. She is survived by her four children. “She lived an amazing life,” her daughter Kym said as she confirmed the death of her mother.