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Tom Kennedy, a trailblazer and great Irish gentleman, passes

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Tom Kennedy, one of the great gentlemen in the Irish American community, has passed away at age 90.

Kennedy was Public Relations & Advertising Manager for Aer Lingus for many years, but he was so much more.

He was a peacemaker, devoting many years of his life after Aer Lingus to the work of the American Ireland Fund, which played a key role in the Irish peace process.

He brought the same affability and charm to his work with the American Ireland Fund as he did to his time with Aer Lingus. He played a key role in the construction of the success story of both those great Irish institutions in America.

Back in the days when airlines emphasized friendliness and service, Kennedy exemplified both. There were no hard edges, just a sense of always putting the customer first and dealing with clients as diverse as Irish President Eamon de Valera when he came to America, to many other heads of state.

Kennedy was courteous, professional and always quick with a joke and a smile and a word of advice for newcomers.

I had two personal encounters with Tom that give the measure of the man.

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When I was contemplating moving from California to New York to start Irish America magazine, he was one of my first ports of call. He was head of Aer Lingus public relations and advertising at the time.

He gave me a great welcome and extensive advice, and immediately put the airline down for advertisements in the new publication. It was a gesture of support I would never forget.

Several years later at one of our Business 100 events at Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York, Tom was present when the Waterford Crystal trophy to be presented to Jean Kennedy Smith as Irish American of the Year shattered into a thousand pieces after it fell off the stand.

We stood around aghast -- except Tom.

He left the event, went to his home, picked his most choice piece of Irish crystal and came back with it, all in enough time to save our blushes as we had, once again, a wonderful trophy to present to Jean Kennedy.

It was a typical act of the man.

I last saw him at the American Ireland Fund dinner earlier this year, accompanied by his charming wife Val as always.

He was still the same dapper Tom, goatee neatly trimmed, ready with some Irish wit, the latest gossip and the news from Ireland.

That is how I would like to remember him, as an Irish gentleman of the greatest kindness and distinction.

Brendan O’Kelly a colleague and friend during all his time in Aer Lingus had the following to say about Tom on Friday.

O'Kelly said "Tom has been my friend and colleague for over 50 years.  We both joined Aer Lingus in NY in the late 1950s – he as Advertising and Public Relations Manager and I was part of the Sales Department. 

"He came to Aer Lingus after stints at the NY Times and the Hudson Meyer Company, one of the top PR firms in New York.

"He was perceived by the airline industry as one of the best in the business and enjoyed the respect and esteem of us all.  He had a wonderful sense of humor and as I think of him now the word laughter comes to mind – he was great company and I ache with the pain of knowing he’s gone. "

May he rest in peace.

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