Lawrence Kennedy was 15 years old when he cut out of high school to go to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in 1947 to see Jackie Robinson make history the day he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
A few years later, serving in the U.S. Air Force, Kennedy was stationed in the Deep South, where he had an up-close view of racism, his family recalled.
Though Kennedy was not related to the famous Kennedy political family, he was inspired by their idealism — and eventually brought that shared vision into local government, serving as deputy supervisor in the Town of Islip and deputy Suffolk County executive.
“He was a terrific public servant,” said James Klurfeld, a former Newsday reporter and editor who covered Kennedy. “He stood out in Suffolk County. He was liked by Republicans as well as Democrats, and respected.”
Although Kennedy was a lifelong Democrat, former Suffolk Executive Peter Cohalan — a Republican — said he once offered him a job in his administration. “He was always forthright, upright — and a lot of fun to be with,” said Cohalan, a retired State Supreme Court justice.
Kennedy, a longtime resident of Bayport who lived in Manorville the last several years, died Tuesday of complications from Parkinson’s disease, his family said. He was 87.
Kennedy served as deputy supervisor in Islip in the late 1960s, and then was tapped as a deputy by H. Lee Dennison, Suffolk County’s first county executive. Both were Democrats in a county that at the time was heavily Republican.
His road to progressive politics started young. He was born in Brooklyn, where he became a big Dodgers fan, and his family moved to Lindenhurst when he was about 7.
On the day Robinson made history, Kennedy — closely following the story of baseball’s first black player — took the train to Brooklyn to watch, said one of Kennedy’s children, David Kennedy of North Babylon.
Then, when he ended up in the Deep South, it “was his first experience with in-your-face racism and hatred,” his son said. “Those two years down in the Deep South definitely rocked his world.”
Kennedy went on to attend St. John’s University, where after graduation he worked as the college's sports information director. He became close friends with Lou Carnesecca, the school’s legendary basketball coach.
After a stint working in community affairs at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, Kennedy entered the political world. His passions were cleaning up corruption, preserving the environment including the Great South Bay, and generally trying to serve the common good, relatives and colleagues said.
As one of Dennison’s deputies, he oversaw the county’s response to the heroin epidemic that started in the early 1970s.
In 1996 he told Newsday that he thought one of the greatest legacies of his years with Dennison was creating “a culture or a mindset that recognized open space and the need for parkland and environmental protection — probably long before that notion became popular nationally.”
His political acumen was legendary. Jim Morgo, also a former Suffolk County deputy executive, recalled that when he was newly arrived in Bayport in the early 1970s and started to organize the campaign of a local politician, “everybody told me I had to speak with Larry … He was the most insightful, informed politician. He was a natural — personable, incredibly affable, witty.”
Kennedy left government after Dennison completed his final term on Dec. 31, 1971, and spent years working for what is now Winthrop NYU Hospital, and later for the American Lung Association. Locally he served on the Bayport Blue Point Board of Education and was active in other organizations including the Sayville Yacht Club.
His first wife, Teresa, predeceased him. He is survived by his wife, Mary Hurley Kennedy, of Manorville; brother Jack Kennedy of Amagansett; another son John, of Boise, Idaho; daughters Mary Beth Greiner of East Moriches, Terri Graig of Croton-on-Hudson, and Maureen Beatrice of Brookhaven; five stepchildren; 11 grandchildren; 10 step-grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
A wake was Wednesday at Werner Rothwell Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach from 4 to 8 p.m. A funeral Mass will be Thursday, 11 a.m., at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Quogue.
In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090 Baltimore, MD 21297, and East End Hospice, Kanas Center for Hospice Care, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton, NY 11978.