Jean Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, has died aged 92. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1928, Jean was the eighth of Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. Although considered the most self-effacing of the brood, Jean was closely involved with her older brother John’s political career from the outset. She worked on his congressional campaign in 1946, and graduated from Manhattanville College in 1949. Three years later, she worked on her brother’s Senate campaign.
Jean married businessman Stephen Edward Smith in 1956, and they had two sons. During her brother John’s presidential campaign in 1960, she went door-knocking in primary states like Texas and Wisconsin. Two months after taking office, the President sent her an official photograph, inscribed: “For Jean. Don’t deny you did it.”
Through her sister Patricia, who lived in a Santa Monica beachhouse with her husband, actor Peter Lawford, Jean was introduced to various Hollywood personalities, including Marilyn Monroe, a regular guest and family friend. Jean may have met her at one of the Lawfords’ dinner parties in early 1962, when her brother Bobby, the Attorney General, was visiting.
At the time, Kennedy patriarch Joe was recovering from a major stroke back East, at the family compound in Hyannisport. Jean refers to his illness in a handwritten, undated note sent to Marilyn, as well as making a joke about the star’s recent acquaintance with Bobby.
“A single sheet of stationery listing an address in Palm Beach, Florida, with autograph notation in blue ink on recto and version reading in full, ‘Dear Marilyn – Mother asked me to write and thank you for your sweet note to Daddy – He really enjoyed it and you were very cute to send it. Understand that you and Bobby are the new item! We all think you should come with him when he comes back east! Again thanks for the note. Love, Jean Smith.'”
Jean also attended John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday gala at Madison Square Garden in May 1962, where Marilyn famously sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President.’ Jean’s husband Stephen was photographed with Marilyn after the performance. Three months later, Marilyn was dead. Jean’s note, willed to Actors Studio founder Lee Strasberg as part of Monroe’s estate, has often been cited as evidence of an affair with Bobby. However, Jean was close to Bobby’s wife Ethel, and so it seems unlikely that her comments were meant literally. Nevertheless, the letter was sold for $28,800 at Julien’s Auctions in 2016.
The 1960s was a tumultuous decade for the Kennedy family. In 1968, Jean supported Bobby’s campaign for the Democratic electoral nomination. She and her husband were with Bobby at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles during a rally, when he was shot dead.
Six years later, Jean founded Very Special Arts, providing arts education for disabled people at the John F. Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts. In 1993, President Clinton appointed her as ambassador to Ireland, and she helped to bring about the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Jean Kennedy Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011, and published her memoir, The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy, in 2016.