President Robert E. Kennedy's Library Legacy

A great man can accomplish great things. This sentiment only begins to describe the legacy of Cal Poly President-Emeritus Robert E. Kennedy. He was the seventh individual to lead Cal Poly as President and served Cal Poly for 27 years prior to his presidency. His long history with Cal Poly began when he took a position as instructor/public relations on the advice of a good friend. Kennedy was told, "That's the school that's going someplace." So, Dr. Kennedy and his wife, Mary, left their San Diego home to settle in San Luis Obispo. Thus began a close relationship between Dr. Kennedy and President Julian McPhee.

Prior to his presidency, Dr. Kennedy described his role at Cal Poly as being advisory to others. "I had to tell the President what he should say. My job had never been to listen, but to give advice. When I became President, my most important role was to listen." His presidency became known for reaching out to groups to seek their opinions. Holding community forums and press conferences was his preferred style of communication.

Lobbying was a skill Dr. Kennedy learned from President McPhee, and it served him well. As Cal Poly President, Dr. Kennedy was actively involved in working with the legislature to support a new Library. "The existing Library was built for 2,000-3,000 students, and we had an enrollment of 6,000 students," said Kennedy. "The governor did not want to support new facilities, and I had to exert pressure on powerful stakeholders to get the Library approved." Because of his success and vision, the Kennedy Library was named after him upon its completion in 1979.

Mary Kennedy played a significant role in nurturing Cal Poly. "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. Mary was also a poet and an active member of the campus club for women. She stressed the club's role in promoting the welfare of the students and being of service to the University.

Upon his retirement, Dr. Kennedy and Mary chose to support the Special Collections and University Archives Department of the Kennedy Library. Why do the Kennedys support the Library? "A great Library is essential to a higher education institution. The Library is like the kitchen in a home. It's the hub of the house; it's where you get fed."

Married for 71 years, the Kennedys continue to live in San Luis Obispo and enjoy attending Retired Faculty and Staff events. Dr. Kennedy has been a frequent speaker for the opening of the Grand Reunion. Alumni and current students appreciate the privilege of hearing from one of Cal Poly's finest.

From Kennedy Library's 2009-2010 Annual Publication (11MB PDF).

» Learn more about Robert E. Kennedy.
» University Archives Biography of Robert E. Kennedy