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Rosemary Higgins Kennedy

1919 - 2012, Santa Barbara

Rosemary Higgins Kennedy, having lived a full life of 92 years, passed peacefully from this earth on July 15, 2012, and now rejoins her husband, Leo Patrick Kennedy. She was at home with her family.

Rosemary was the oldest of six children of Matthew and Catherine Higgins. As the first born, and the oldest daughter, she became almost a younger sister to her mother, and was the mother’s helper who joined in raising her siblings and running the home. From her parents she learned compassion and a love of humanity, even “for the least among us.”

As a young Chicagoan during the Depression, she worked downtown in the Loop and prided herself on walking unafraid past mobsters on her way to work at the Board of Education. She was sure the mobsters were every bit as dangerous and heavily armed as they were polite and well dressed.

In the run-up to the war she took a leave of absence to work for Braniff Airlines, where she earned the nickname “Propwash Higgins.” But that is another story for another time. She was also a model, and it was while modeling at a fur show that she met Leo Kennedy. They shared a love of life, idealism, learning, and music. They eventually became engaged, and, in the course of time, she became a war-time bride before he shipped out, they knew not where, nor for how long.

When the war ended and Leo returned, they immediately began working on their own family, leading to many happy, summer-long vacations, car camping with babies and toddlers (before disposable diapers).

Although neither Rosemary nor Leo would have missed growing up in Chicago for the world, by the 1950s it was no longer the city they knew, and they moved their family to Santa Barbara.

Rosemary loved raising her “brood” in Santa Barbara, and was thankful that she lived in an age when it was still possible to do so on a single income. She was devoted to her children and volunteered for anything to support them. She loved the camaraderie of the like-minded mothers with whom she worked so tirelessly at Dolores School and Bishop High. She was room mother, den mother, PTA president, librarian for Dolores School (where she restructured and reindexed the entire library over a single summer), and she was always game to organize, run, and clean up for various annual rummage sales.

She was as devoted to the Old Mission Santa Barbara Parish as she was to her family, and threw herself into the changes stemming from the Second Vatican Council. At the Parish level, she was one of the original members of The Women, served on the first Pastoral Council, was a founder of the parish coffee hour, and was an active member of St. Clare’s Circle. At the interfaith level, she was involved in Church Women United and Santa Barbara’s first Ecumenical Council. Although supportive of the changes made by Vatican II, she was disappointed that they did not go far enough, particularly in regard to the role of women in the Church. But Rosemary thought that half a loaf was better than none, and, although she could not consecrate the Eucharist herself, she did become a Eucharistic Minister to the sick. She also served as chauffeur to the Poor Clares, taking the sisters to doctors’ appointments.

Rosemary saw no point in railing against inevitable aging, for with it came a wisdom unobtainable in any other way. She was grateful to live 92 years. She saw her children grow and marry, and the family tent-camping trips in the US and Canada were replaced with vacations in Irish B&Bs (and the occasional castle) with her adult children and grandchildren. She could – and did – turn any occasion into a celebration.

At one point, Rosemary wrote a list of things she was thankful for. Included were “my own loyal, loving husband, Leo, my one and only forever love, whose great sense of humor and honor helped us through many rough times, and for six dear children, the like of which there never was, who have never failed to astonish me with their own distinct personalities and gifts of warmth, love of family, kindness, madness, and wild humor.”

As much as she loved being mother to her “four little boyos” and “two dear girls,” she relished her role as grandmother. She delighted in watching her six grandchildren grow into their own distinct personalities, full of humor and kindness. Two years ago, she was elevated to the status of great-grandma with the arrival of her “sweet boy, Bodie.”

Rosemary is survived by her six children: Leo Patrick, Jr. (Susan), Brian O’Higgins (Sharon), Duff James (Tessa), Terrence Joseph (Moira), Maura Rose, and Sheila Maeve Grimes (Keith). She was the proud grandmother of Megan Kennedy Nemeth (Abel), Rebecca, Sean, Marjorie, Deirdre, and Fiona Kennedy, and great grandmother of Bodie Nemeth.

Rosemary also had great love for her niece, Carey Fanning, for Todd and Wesley Hafferkamp and their mother, Lyn Edick, for Phil Potter, and for her other numerous nieces and nephews.

She was a feminist and was staunchly in favor of social justice — but who could be against social justice? She was a life-long Democrat, and leaves you with this message: Vote Obama.
A mass in celebration of her life will be Friday August 10, at 10am in the Old Mission.

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