Loyalty, protectiveness, and pride in the connection to the university, the community and, most of all, to family—these values come across resoundingly in conversations with brother and sister, Tim Kennedy and Peggy Sheagren, reminiscing about their late father, Richard “Dick” Kennedy, the longest-serving executive officer in U-M history.
During his 39 years at the university, Dick Kennedy served with 19 different regents, five presidents, and 27 vice presidents.
Tim, 51, and Peggy, 47, are the youngest in a family of five children. A U-M staff member since 1988, Tim manages the university’s building automation systems operation and is involved with cross-functional work groups across campus. Peggy, who began her U-M career in 1999 after obtaining MBA and MPH degrees from the U-M Ross School of Business and the School of Public Health, is the senior director of development operations for the University of Michigan Health System.
Tim and Peggy both speak of their parents with admiration. Their love animates their stories, giving them a bittersweet poignancy. It infuses their work and expresses itself in their commitment to making a difference by serving the university community.
Their father, Richard, was born in Detroit Sept. 11, 1932, and raised in Howell. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from U-M in 1954. While at U-M, he met his future bride Ann Marie Moran. Ann was a student in the School of Music who later became a teacher of vocal music. The couple married in 1955 and had five children. They were married for 40 years.
Photos of the Kennedy family taken in the early to mid-1970s by then-UM-student photographer Andrew Sacks shed a revealing light on Dick Kennedy as a public figure, administrator, negotiator, lobbyist, and father.
Sacks’ intention was to make a book documenting six months in the life of a university executive officer. Though the photos were never published, Sacks gave the collection to the Kennedys and consented to some of the photos being published here.
Images of Dick at home with his family are some of the most striking and powerful. Smiling, playing basketball, eating burgers on a summer day surrounded by beaming kids—they are a happy family.
Other images reveal the important role that music played in the household. There are heartwarming images of the family gathered around a piano in the living room—some showing Ann and others showing Dick at the keyboard—accompanying their children in the joyful act of making music together.
It’s a remarkable photographic record, documenting precious moments in the life of an American family where the dad just happened to be a powerful leader who spearheaded major initiatives, successfully lobbied for funds to build a new hospital, entertained U.S. presidents, always took time out of his busy schedule to recognize staff members for their service to the university, and had an incredible capacity to listen with empathy and sensitivity to students whose outrage about the Vietnam war was threatening to erupt into violent campus protest.
“Be Patient, be Honest, and Be There”
Commenting on the project 40 years later, Sacks wrote: “It’s hard to know how much I learned while Richard did his life in front of my cameras. But I think there were a number of parenting lessons I took from him while on this assignment: Be patient, be honest, and be there.”
Sadly, the idyllic family life captured in those photos was interrupted. Ann passed away in 1995 and Richard in 2004, at 71.
Reflecting on his father’s life and legacy, Tim says, “Dad recognized the contributions of all staff, regardless of position or title, and believed we shared equally in the success of the organization. The annual Staff Service Award Dinner was one of his favorite things to do. Spending a humorous evening celebrating the contributions of staff meant the world to him. I feel fortunate to have grown up in a Michigan family, sharing and experiencing the successes and challenges with a person so committed to our organization.”
“Dad had a deep love for Michigan,” says Tim, “He consistently exercised the mantra ‘For the good of the institution’ as a foundation in his decision making. Peggy and I both carry that thinking forward in our professional lives.”
Peggy, the youngest child in the family, adds: “What I hope for the future of the university is that we are able, from time to time, to take a moment to pause and reflect on the unique qualities that have made this university great.
“We seem to be getting bigger, faster and stronger and there is no reason that we shouldn’t, but our growth plans have to be carried out thoughtfully and in a way that upholds this institution’s integrity and steadfast principles. In order for U-M to continue to educate and train the world’s future leaders, it’s important at times to look back at our roots.
“Dad never acted as if history began with him—he always acknowledged his predecessors and felt a great responsibility to carry out the legacy they initiated.”
Dick Kennedy’s career with the university began in 1956 as a field representative with the Development Council, where he developed the initial concept for the President’s Club, a donor recognition society that became a cornerstone of subsequent major gift and capital campaigns.
From 1963-67, he served as executive director of the university’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. (In the photo at the bottom of this story, Dick Kennedy is shown standing outside of the LSA Building with a vehicle commemorating the U-M sesquicentennial. The UM-0150 license plate is a memento that hangs in Tim’s office today.
He was director of state and community relations from 1968-70.
He became an executive officer in 1970 with his appointment as secretary of the university and assistant to the president. In 1974, he was appointed vice president for state relations, and in 1984 his title was changed to vice president for government relations to reflect his broadened leadership role in state, community and federal relations. Under his guidance, the university established two major outreach offices, in Washington, D.C., and Lansing.
Kennedy served on the boards of many university and community organizations, including those governing M-CARE, University Hospitals and Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, Washtenaw United Way, University Musical Society and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
When he retired in 1994, the regents named the one-block roadway between the Fleming Building and the Michigan Union Richard L. Kennedy Drive.
“The Go-To Guy”
Vice president for government relations, Cynthia Wilbanks, says Kennedy was completely loyal to the university and set a standard with a combination of effectiveness and the high regard of his colleagues and constituents.
“Dick never acted in a way to draw attention to himself,” said Wilbanks, “yet he was the ‘go-to guy,’ the one who got things done.”
“Even under the most difficult of circumstances,” Wilbanks says, “Dick had a smile for everyone he met.”
- Recreating historic photo an “unbelievable experience“
- Kennedy family works to honor U-M history, by Safiya Merchant, The University Record.
— Wendy Frisch