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Obituary for Thomas Kennedy

Published: March 10, 2017

Tom Kennedy always considered himself a lucky man–lucky in lineage,lucky in love, lucky in labor, and lucky in the loyalty of a lot of good friends.

He was born 25 September 1937 in Dayton, Ohio, the second of three sons of Harry Lawrence and Adlyn Cummins Kennedy. He was raised in an Irish-American tribe since most of his parents’ close friends were resolutely Irish, faithfully Catholic and staunchly Democrat. His childhood was nearly idyllic, if insufficiently touched with the hard realities of a relentless world.

From the beginning, Tom was well-educated, in so far as he was willing to co-operate, in good Catholic institutions, where he learned to love history and literature but, alas, to dislike, beyond arithmetic, all things connected with mathematics, a considerable weakness. Perhaps more important, he was taught at home and in school to adhere to strict ethical standards (he sometimes failed to fully embrace) and, more successfully, to treat all human beings with dignity and respect. May it go before his parents and his teachers.

After graduating from the University of Dayton, he served for twenty-five months, mostly in Germany, as a fresh-faced officer in the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the height of the Cold War. There he learned about many things, wonderful and dreadful, he had not encountered in his previously sheltered life. During military service he met a host of fine and talented friends, learned the wonders of a foreign culture and people, suffered the throes of an ultimately unrequited love affair and almost became a serious young man. It was a bracing and maturing experience, never marked, God and good luck be thanked, by the need to fire a weapon in anger or fear at another human being.

Tom’s luck remained intact when, wandering about Europe after his release from the Army, he had a pre-arranged meeting in Stuttgart with a hometown girl, Mary Lynn Goecke, and began the fun and adventure that started as a lark and ended as a life-long attachment. Ahh, he was an undeservingly fortunate creature. While he was teaching literature and learning grammar, finally, at a fortuitously acquired position at a marvelous high school in West Carrollton, Ohio, Tom and Mary were married less than a year after their marvelous German fling. After this glorious coupling, he began to acquire higher education, and she began having babies. The first of these, Maura Ann, was born in Arizona where Tom received a Masters degree, the next two (Padraic and Eamon) in Columbia, South Carolina where he earned a Ph.D. Their fourth precious babe (Caitlin) was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas where Tom attained employment and, good fortune proceeding, they afterward lived together in mostly blissful wedlock, mostly because Mary was usually more patient if not more loving than he. 

During nearly forty years of teaching in the History Department at the University of Arkansas, Tom met a vast array of sometimes brilliant, often fascinating people many of whom, fortune ever-smiling, became close and loving friends. He loved teaching, more perhaps than some of his students loved learning, but in that cast of thousands, there were some he never forgot and a few who gained high places in the world of men and women. Once the children were all in school, Mary joined the staff of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, eventually serving two decades as editor of Survey publications. Having discovered the attractions of research and having learned to write at least moderately lucid prose, Tom began to publish scholarly articles and eventually books, many of which examined Quakers and Quakerism in Britain and the United States.  None, alas, became best sellers, but all were labors of love.  His scholarly pursuits led him to become an active participant and President of the Western Conference on British Studies, and to become President of the Friends Historical Society in London.

Tom, Mary and all four children lived in London for six months, an exciting, educational and usually happy embracing with England and English people. Later, when, luck continuing, he was appointed T. Wister Brown Fellow at Haverford College, Eamon and Cait accompanied their parents to the Philadelphia suburbs; easy for the elders, not always for young teenagers, but all survived another learning experience.  The last overseas residence for Tom and Mary Lynn was in Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.  It proved to be a glorious year and, especially for him, a home away from home while he undertook research trips throughout the British Isles.

While research, teaching, travel, and family demanded much of his attention, Tom always found time for the sporting life: born a Cincinnati Red, educated as a Dayton Flyer, and ripened as an Arkansas Razorback, his loyalties were never in question.  Not content to observe the contests on fields and courts, Tom relished the physical challenges of sport, eventually leading the intramural teams of the Department of History to an all-sport trophy at the University of Arkansas.   The careful management of departmental intramural sports was matched by his nurturing of Fayetteville’s soccer program that has provided instruction and competition to generations of the city’s youth.  Sport provided Tom with an outlet that gave full rein to his love of competition, zest for life, and value of teamwork.

Tom loved to sing and dance and write verse, which often accompanied invitations to the famous annual Party, allegedly celebrating he feast of blessed St. Patrick, he and Mary hosted for several decades and hoped that guests savored as much as they enjoyed. It was all in the tradition, as his sainted ancestors proclaimed: “Life is short and you’re a long time dead.”

Tom is survived by his wife and children, his brother Harry and sister-in-law Sangnete, of Fresno, California, his son-in-law Tony Anaya of Cincinnati, Ohio, daughter-in-law Alison Greer of Baltimore, Maryland, son-in-law Ryan Guyton of Fayetteville, and eight beloved grandchildren, Adlyn, Thomas and Matteo of Cincinnati, Jennie and Jared, of Windsor, Colorado, Harry and Iain, of Baltimore, and Anna, of Fayetteville.    

There will be a memorial service held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville on Saturday February 11 at 11a.m.  If desired, in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the form of contributions to any progressive cause.  Tom contributed to them all.

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