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Jean Kennedy Smith, last surviving sibling of President Kennedy, dies at 92

As U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Kennedy Family Standing on Lawn
This 1934 photo shows former President John F. Kennedy with his family at their Boston home. L to R: Edward, Jean, Robert, Patricia, Eunice, Kathleen, Rosemary, John, Mrs. Rose Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy. Another son, Joseph Kennedy Jr. who was killed in World War II is not shown in this photo.Bettmann Archive
/ Source: NBC News

Jean Kennedy Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, died Wednesday night in Manhattan, her daughter said. She was 92.

"She lived an amazing life," her daughter Kym Smith told NBC News in a statement Thursday.

Kennedy was born on Feb. 20, 1928, in Boston, Massachusetts to Rose and Joseph Kennedy.

She moved to New York City after marrying transportation executive Stephen E. Smith in 1956. He died in 1990.

They had four children together.

Her siblings included older brother Joseph Kennedy Jr., who was killed during World War II; Kathleen Kennedy, who died in a 1948 plane crash; President Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was killed in 1968.

Rose Kennedy (Rear 2L) sailing with her children: (Fore)
Rose Kennedy sailing with her children Ted, Jean, Joe Jr., Robert, Patricia and Eunice.Alfred Eisenstaedt / Getty Images

Sisters Patricia Kennedy died in 2006 and Rosemary Kennedy in 2005. Sen. Edward Kennedy, the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, died of brain cancer in August 2009, the same month their sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver also died.

Smith was viewed for much of her life as a quiet Kennedy sister who shunned the spotlight. In her memoir, “The Nine of Us,” published in 2016, she wrote that her childhood seemed “unexceptional" for much of the time.

“It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,” she explained. “At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration.”

Though she never ran for office, she campaigned for her brothers, traveling the country for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy as he sought the presidency in 1960.

Kennedy sisters (L-R) Patricia Lawford Mrs Stephen Smith &
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 01: Kennedy sisters (L-R) Patricia Lawford, Mrs. Stephen Smith & Eunice Shriver campaigning for presidential candidate John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential election.Stan Wayman / Getty Images

Prior to JFK's assassination in November 1963, Smith stepped in that year for a traveling Jacqueline Kennedy and co-hosted a state dinner for Ireland’s president.

The same year, she accompanied her brother — the first Irish Catholic president in the U.S. — on his famous visit to Ireland. Their great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was from Dunganstown in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland.

Three decades later, Smith was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton, who called her “as Irish as an American can be.”

Jean Kennedy Smith
Jean Kennedy Smith, the sister of assassinated US President John F. Kennedy, holds a press conference at the Palazzo delle Civilta Italiana in Rome, Italy, 21st January 1965.Keystone / Getty Images

During her confirmation hearing, she recalled the trip to that country with her brother, describing it as “one of the most moving experiences of my own life.”

As ambassador, she played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. She helped persuade Clinton to grant a controversial visa in 1994 to Gerry Adams, chief of the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party. The move defied the British government, which branded Adams as a terrorist.

She later called criticism of her actions toward the IRA “unfortunate” and said she thought history would credit the Clinton administration with helping the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said in 1998, “It is not an understatement to say that if (the visa for Adams) didn’t happen at the time, perhaps other events may not have fallen into place.”

In 1996, though, Smith was reprimanded by Secretary of State Warren Christopher for punishing two of her officers who objected to the visa for Adams.

Authors Night 2017 to benefit The East Hampton Library
Jean Kennedy Smith attends Author's Night 2017 to benefit the East Hampton Library on August 12, 2017, in East Hampton, New York.Sonia Moskowitz / WireImage

In December 1998, Smith again risked controversy by taking communion in a Protestant cathedral in Dublin, going against the bishops of her Roman Catholic church.

Her decision was a strong personal gesture of support for Irish President Mary McAleese, a fellow Catholic who had been criticized by Irish bishops for joining in the Protestant communion service.

“Religion, after all, is about bringing people together,” Smith told The Irish Times. “We all have our own way of going to God.”

When she stepped down as ambassador in 1998, she received Irish citizenship for “distinguished service to the nation.”

Diplomacy, along with politics, also ran in the Kennedy family. Her father was ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. Niece Caroline Kennedy served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.

Jorge Rey / Getty Images

“We’re the first father-daughter ambassadors,” Smith told The Irish Times in 1997. “So I can’t remember a time when we were not an actively political family."

Smith's son, Dr. William Kennedy Smith, made headlines in 1991, when he was charged with rape at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Florida. He was acquitted after a highly publicized trial that included testimony from his uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who had gone with his nephew and son to nightclubs that Easter weekend.

In addition to a life in politics, Smith founded Very Special Arts, an educational program that supports artists with physical or mental disabilities.

Her 1993 book with George Plimpton, “Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists,” features interviews with disabled artists. The program followed in the footsteps of her sister Eunice’s creation of the Special Olympics for disabled athletes.