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Updated 2:00 PM January 13, 2004



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Richard "Dick" Kennedy

Richard "Dick" Kennedy, 71, the longest-serving executive officer in the University's history, died Dec. 26 in Traverse City with his family at his side.

(Photo by U-M Photo Services)

Kennedy was born in Detroit Sept. 11, 1932, and raised in Howell. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from U-M in 1954. His career with the University began in 1956 as a field representative with the Development Council, where he developed the initial concept for the President's Club, a donor recognition society that has been a cornerstone of subsequent major gift and capital campaigns.

In 1961, Kennedy was recruited to serve as director of alumni relations at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, but returned to U-M the following year as special assistant in the Office of University Relations.

From 1963-67, Kennedy served as executive director of the University's Sesquicentennial Celebration, with overall responsibility for planning and executing the yearlong program commemorating the University's 150th anniversary. He was director of state and community relations from 1968-70.

Kennedy first became an executive officer in 1970 with his appointment as secretary of the University and assistant to the president. In 1974, he was appointed vice president for state relations, and in 1984 his title was changed to vice president for government relations to reflect his broadened leadership role in state, community and federal relations. Under his guidance, the University established two major outreach offices, in Washington, D.C., and Lansing.

The current vice president for government relations, Cynthia Wilbanks, says Kennedy was completely loyal to the University and set a standard with a combination of effectiveness and the high regard of his colleagues and constituents that never again will be touched. "Dick never acted in a way to draw attention to himself, yet he was the go-to guy,' the one who got things done. Even under the most difficult of circumstances," Wilbanks says, "Dick had a smile for everyone he met."

To Rick Bossard, government relations officer with the U-M Health System, Kennedy was a long-time friend and colleague. Bossard calls him a wonderful statesman for the University as a whole and for the Medical Center. "Dick was one of three key people to whom I give credit for the building of what was then called the replacement hospital.' The others are former President Harold Shapiro and former House Speaker Gary Owen. The University benefited many times from Dick's excellent relationship with state legislators, but no more so than helping to secure approval and funding for the new hospital," Bossard says.

Shapiro, the University's 10th president, who served from 1980-87, agrees with Bossard about Kennedy's critical role in securing the needed legislative mandate and funding for the hospital. "Dick had enormous good sense. He always had many agendas, but they were all open, and you always knew what he was thinking. He was a thoughtful voice on major policy issues, and during his long tenure as secretary of the University, it's no accident that there were very good relationships with the regents," Shapiro says.

Kennedy served on the boards of many University and community organizations, including those governing M-CARE, University Hospitals and Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, Washtenaw United Way, University Musical Society and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. On the national level, he served in several leadership positions with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, and was highly regarded by his higher education colleagues as an innovator in the area of government relations.

Kennedy retired in 1994. By that time he had served with 19 different regents, five presidents and 27 vice presidents. As a tribute to his 39 years of service to the University, the regents named the one-block roadway between the Fleming Building and the Michigan Union Richard L. Kennedy Drive.

Kennedy was married in 1955 to Ann Marie Moran, a 1954 U-M graduate, who died in 1995. He is survived by five children: Stephen of Boston; Martha Videan of Traverse City; Patricia of Ann Arbor; Tim of Ann Arbor and Peggy Sheagren of Ann Arbor; and six grandchildren (soon to be seven; Peggy is expecting her first child early in February).

According to Tim Kennedy, his father's dedication to family was equal to if not more profound than his many significant contributions to the University. "He was the type of dad that was always there to answer a question, to help with a math problem or to help fix the tire on your car. He was the type of father that guided you down the road and gently bumped you back to center if need be. His advice was thoughtful, heartfelt and invaluable," Kennedy says.

A funeral Mass was held Dec. 31 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Ann Arbor. Contributions can be mailed to St. Thomas—Heritage Fund in Ann Arbor or to the American Cancer Society.

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