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David Matthew Kennedy

Public and Private Servant

David M. Kennedy, born 21 July 1905 in Randolph, Utah, lived his life committed to principle, service, and excellence. Schooled in selflessness, Kennedy’s early lessons had an indelible impact on his life. To all who knew him, Kennedy exemplified humility, love, warmth, friendship, integrity, tolerance, and understanding.

In the Public Eye

He became an internationally respected banker before leaving the private sector behind to enter public service. Kennedy served in the Nixon administration, first as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1968–70), then as Ambassador-at-Large on international economic issues (1970–71), and finally completed his government service as U.S. Ambassador to NATO (1971–73). When he left the Treasury Department, Kennedy’s coworkers are said to have toasted him with water. Kennedy told a newspaper reporter that this “is the finest compliment I could have received.”1

In April 1974, following a brief one-year retirement, Kennedy, who was almost 69, was called by President Spencer W. Kimball, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to be Ambassador-at-Large for the Church. As the Special Representative of the First Presidency until his release in 1990 at age 84, Kennedy would promote good will with leaders of nations where the Church would be established, while assisting the Church to gain recognition and understanding of its purposes.

Setting Priorities

Kennedy met and fell in love with Lenora Bingham, of Ogden, while working to save for a mission. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple, November 1925. In January 1926, Kennedy began his two-year mission service at mission headquarters in Liverpool— fulfilling his bishop’s admonition to “go ahead and get married; then you can leave for the mission field.” Yes, those were different days.

Edinburgh, Scotland 1926 Kennedy in the family tartan during his mission in Great Britain

Throughout his life, Kennedy was a family man—as husband to Lenora and as father to their four daughters, Marilyn Taylor, Barbara Law, Carol Davis, and Patricia Campbell. Like most families, the Kennedy clan faced highs and lows, but through it all their patriarch stood as a pillar of strength. They and their families were always his greatest source of joy.

A Solid Foundation

Following his missionary service in 1928, Kennedy graduated from Weber College. The couple moved to Washington, D.C., in 1929, where he earned AB and LLB degrees at George Washington University and later completed a graduate degree at Stonier Graduate School of Banking, Rutgers University. While still pursuing his law degree in 1930, Kennedy accepted a position with the Federal Reserve System as a technical assistant, economist, and assistant to Marriner S. Eccles, chairman of the board—an early indication of the professional opportunities he would have and the circles he would travel in. Weber College, George Washington University, Brigham Young University, and four other universities would eventually confer honorary doctor’s degrees on Kennedy because of his outstanding accomplishments in banking, government, and public service.

Chicago, Illinois 1959 Kennedy in his office while chairman of the Continental Illinois National Bank of Chicago

In addition to home and work responsibilities, Kennedy was constantly involved in church activities. While in Chicago, he juggled several assignments, including joining the board of trustees for Nauvoo Restoration, Inc. While on the board, Kennedy worked to try and bring about a consensus for how best to tell the story of Nauvoo. In addition, he constantly served in bishoprics and stake presidencies.

Fostering the Vision

His beloved wife Lenora preceded him in death on 26 August 1995. Kennedy soon followed on 1 May 1996— he would have been ninety-one that July. Their life together had spanned almost seventy years. At the time of his passing, the First Presidency of the Church released a statement honoring his memory: “His efforts were instrumental in gaining recognition of the Church in many nations. He lived a full and productive life, but will still be missed by his family, friends, the nation, and the Church. We extend our thanks to his family for sharing him with us.”

Washington, D.C. 1969 Kennedy during his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury

Kennedy’s efforts to bring the Church to the world live on. Kennedy had introduced the Church to many nations of the world, and then-BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland imagined a similar goal for BYU’s international center. A proposal was accepted in 1983 to expand the center, renaming it the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies “in recognition of Elder Kennedy’s distinguished global contributions in finance, trade, diplomacy, government service, home and family life, and in the expansion of the Church,” said Holland in his inaugural address.2 At the dedication of the center, President Holland remarked, “David M. Kennedy exemplifies, both as a public servant and as an individual Latter-day Saint, those sterling qualities of character and intellect which all associated with the David M. Kennedy Center for International and Area Studies can seek gladly to emulate.”3

BYU, Provo, Utah 1983 Kennedy and Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU president, participate in dedication program of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies

The David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University is proud to be named for this great statesman and servant. The center has become the vehicle to represent the university— and often the Church—in continued international involvement, and in its institutional urgency to foster among students, future national and international leaders, the awareness, knowledge, understanding, and skill so necessary to successfully conduct international affairs.

Provo, Utah 1980s The Kennedys’ four daughters (left to right): Patricia K. Campbell, Carol K. Davis, Marilyn K. Taylor, Barbara K. Law

1. “Banker, Statesman, Diplomat Spends Life ‘Serving the Lord,’” Sarah Jane Cannon, Deseret News archives, Saturday, 22 July 1995.
2. “The Mission of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies,” Jeffrey R. Holland, BYU president, 17 November 1983.
3. “News of the Church,” Ensign, May 1983, p. 89.