Although she never ran for office, she campaigned for her brothers, traveling across the country for the former senator. John F. Kennedy while seeking the presidency in 1960.
Before JFK’s assassination in November 1963, Smith intervened that year for a Jacqueline Kennedy on a trip and co-hosted a state dinner for the Irish president.
The same year, she accompanied her brother – the first Irish Catholic president in the United States – during his famous visit to Ireland. Their great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was from Dunganstown, County Wexford, in the south-east of Ireland.
Three decades later, Smith was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton, who called him “as Irish as an American can be.”
During her confirmation hearing, she recalled the trip to this country with her brother, describing it as “one of the most touching experiences of my own life”.
As ambassador, she played a role in the peace process in Northern Ireland. She helped persuade Clinton to issue a controversial visa in 1994 to Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein party linked to the Irish Republican Army. The move challenged the British government, which labeled Adams a terrorist.
She later called the criticism of her actions towards the IRA “unhappy” and said she believed history would attribute the Clinton administration aid to 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) did not take place at the time, perhaps other events did not take place. may not have occurred. “
In 1996, however, Smith was reprimanded by Secretary of State Warren Christopher for punishing two of his officers who opposed the visa for Adams.
In December 1998, Smith again risked controversy by taking communion in a Protestant cathedral in Dublin against the bishops of his Roman Catholic church.
His decision was a strong personal gesture of support for Irish President Mary McAleese, a Catholic colleague who had been criticized by the Irish bishops for joining the Protestant communion service.
“After all, religion is about bringing people together,” Smith told the Irish Times. “We all have our own way of going to God. “
When she resigned 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 was ambassador to Japan under the Obama administration.
“We are the first father-daughter ambassadors,” Smith told the Irish Times in 1997. “So I don’t remember a time when we weren’t an actively political family. “
In addition to a life in politics, Smith founded Very Special Arts, an educational program that supports artists with physical and mental disabilities.
His 1993 book with George Plimpton, “Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists,” features interviews with artists with disabilities. The program followed in the footsteps of his sister Eunice’s creation of Special Olympics for disabled athletes.