Photo of Mary Kennedy laughing

Written by on November 19, 2013

Mary Kennedy, former First Lady of Cal Poly

Mary Kennedy, a beloved presence on the Cal Poly campus for nearly four decades, passed away at the age of 97 on October 3, 2013. She played a significant role at Cal Poly; as President Emeritus Robert E. Kennedy liked to say, he “never made a decision without consulting Mary.”

Mary was married to Robert Kennedy for 72 years at the time of his death in 2010, and they had four children together. President Emeritus Kennedy was Cal Poly’s seventh president from 1967 until 1979. In all, he served the university almost 40 years, leaving a lasting legacy.

Legendary concern for students

The Kennedys were known for opening their home to Cal Poly students and faculty.

“Mary Kennedy loved Cal Poly, and by all accounts, everyone who had the good fortune to know her loved her right back,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “Her concern for students is legendary. There is so much to admire about Mary’s professional accomplishments, but I especially admire the way she remained connected to students throughout her life.”

Photo of Robert_and_Mary_Kennedy

Robert and Mary Kennedy. Photo: Archives

Keeping the connection

After President Emeritus Kennedy’s retirement, Mary and Robert supported Special Collections and Archives at Kennedy Library. “A great library is essential to a higher education institution,” President Emeritus Kennedy said. “The library is like the kitchen in a home. It’s the hub of the house; it’s where you get fed.”

Reliable advisor

Mary Kennedy was a poet and an active member of the Cal Poly Women’s Club. She stressed the club’s role in promoting students’ welfare and being of service to the university.

“Mary Kennedy was one of the most gracious, caring people you could ever hope to meet. She cared deeply about our students and about all aspects of Cal Poly,” said President Emeritus Warren J. Baker.

“For good reason, she was one of President Kennedy’s most reliable advisers,” Baker said. “And not many people know how helpful she was behind the scenes in building relations with important off-campus supporters. I can’t tell you how many times donors and legislators would ask me to convey their regards to Mary.”

Mary was also very interested in architecture, and played a key role in the redesign of her house and garden, which integrated Japanese architectural influences and involved Cal Poly architecture students.

Read more about Mary Kennedy and the Kennedy’s legacy on our website.

A celebration of Mary Kennedy’s life is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church, 1515 Fredericks St. in San Luis Obispo.

Read more on mary kennedy, robert e. kennedy, and Women's History Month.