In Memory: Mary Kennedy

Mary Paxton Kennedy: A Tribute

Mary Kennedy (1916-2013) was an active member of the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities for over 60 years. The young Kennedy family arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1940, and as Robert Kennedy embarked on a highly influential 40-year career, Mary Kennedy began an equally significant career as an advocate for students and women on campus.

During the forty years they were at Cal Poly, the Kennedy family witnessed and contributed to the remarkable growth of the university in administration, student enrollment, and the built environment. As Robert Kennedy moved from professor to administrator to Cal Poly’s seventh president, Mary Kennedy served as a partner and thoughtful supporter—“I never made a decision without consulting Mary,” said Kennedy.

The Kennedys were known for opening their home to all Cal Poly students and faculty. They also opened other doors on campus–as president of the Cal Poly Women’s Club, Mary Kennedy stressed the club’s role in promoting students’ welfare and service to the university. Together, the Kennedys helped launch an honorary degree for wives of married students known as “Pushing Hubby Through (PhT)” at a time when women were not permitted to enroll at Cal Poly.

Off campus, Mary Kennedy was an active member of the San Luis Obispo Monday Club and the League of Woman Voters. She found personal success as a published poet. Her 1967 poem “Continuity,” a reflection on her personal experiences at Cal Poly, initially distributed as a Christmas card in 1967, was recorded in the U.S. Congressional Record by Representative Leon Panetta in 1979.

The Kennedys retired from Cal Poly in 1979, but remained connected to campus for the next 40 years. They were strong supporters of the Kennedy Library and advocates for Special Collections and Archives. Many of the Kennedys’ Cal Poly records can be found in University Archives.

Mary Kennedy will be remembered for her contributions to the development of Cal Poly, as well as to all the students whose lives she touched.

Memorial Gifts

Memorial donations can be made to the Robert E. and. Mary Kennedy Endowment for Special Collections and Archives in the Kennedy Library.

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Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy with cake and map of Cal Poly

Image courtesy of University Archives


This place has put up with me for so many seasons;
Why have I stayed? Oh, perhaps many reasons.
Existence before essence—I had to live,
That’s the first excuse I’d give.
Then larger pattern grew from small habit,
Conforming ways, some sheer Babbitt;
And pride, I’d say, in some little contribution
To this or that local institution.
At any rate I stayed,
And not until now have I exactly weighed
The reasons this place may have me ‘till I die.
I need not strain to express why.
This landscape in shadow or sunlight’s brightest glow,
The seasons of this place I have come to know.
But most of all, you, the people and your way,
You comfort me as I move among you day to day.

– Mary Kennedy

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