Kennedy
Kennedy

LOWELL -- Robert Kennedy was slowing down.

No longer able to see his pals as often, the former Lowell politico couldn't wait for the occasional lunch with his buddies.

It became a big day for him. Other than seeing his friends, including former Lowell Mayor Armand LeMay, what he really enjoyed was when somebody would come over at the restaurant and say, "Hey, Bobby! How you doing?"

He loved to be recognized, and boy, he was recognized for a lot.

Kennedy made his mark on Lowell over the years, serving as a city councilor and mayor. He was later the administrator of the Lowell Regional Transit Authority, where he's honored with the Robert B. Kennedy Bus Transfer Center at the Gallagher Intermodal Terminal.

In the City Council chambers, two mayors shake hands, the late Richard Howe, left, and Robert Kennedy, right. SUN FILE PHOTO
In the City Council chambers, two mayors shake hands, the late Richard Howe, left, and Robert Kennedy, right. SUN FILE PHOTO

He was also a state representative and a governor's councilor.

Kennedy died last week. He was 78.

Many people in the last week have reflected on him making the city a better place, along with remembering his vision, fight and passion.

"When Bobby had a project on his mind, everything around him got lost," City Councilor Rita Mercier said.

"I remember the phone ringing, and he says to me, 'Rita. Do you know who your governor's councilor is?' And I said, 'Bobby. It's 2:30 in the morning. I don't even know where I am or what a governor councilor is."

LeMay goes back 60 years with Kennedy. When LeMay was voted in as mayor in 1974, Kennedy provided the clinching fifth vote.

"We were very close for the remaining time," LeMay said.


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"He was just a very good friend, a good person, and meant a lot to the city."

Kennedy also voted for James Campbell to become city manager. Kennedy played a major role in the dramatic turnaround of his hometown, according to Campbell.

"Bob Kennedy was involved in many of the decisions that led to Lowell becoming one of the most progressive mid-sized cities in the United States," Campbell said. "His family should be very proud of his accomplishments."

Kennedy was married to Janet, and they recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. They raised two daughters: Eleanor and Katherine.

Kennedy was Katherine's biggest supporter when she decided to quit her job, move to New York City and pursue her master's degree in business administration at NYU's Stern School of Business.

"He was the best dad," Katherine said. "He wanted to make sure he raised smart, strong, independent women who were thoughtful and cared about other people. He always encouraged Ellie and me to challenge ourselves."

Kennedy was challenged himself when he was mayor from 1986 to 1987.

Some people serve as mayor during pretty calm times, while others are tumultuous; Kennedy served during a somewhat tumultuous time with the school district.

"He did a great job during that period," City Councilor Edward Kennedy recalled. "Lowell owes a debt of gratitude."

Robert attended Lowell schools and was a graduate of Lowell High School Class of 1958, where he was captain of the golf team.

Ziggy Burns knew Robert from a very young age. The group of nine youngsters were too young to go out on their own, so they would run around and play games. They have always remained close.

"Bobby was a special guy," Burns said. "He really loved Lowell, a true Lowellian."

Whatever he did, it was with tremendous enthusiasm, according to Burns.

"It was nothing half-hearted," Burns said. "He gave it 100 percent, and was a fighter right up till the end."

He was elected to the Lowell City Council in 1971 and served until 1975, then returning from 1981 to 1985 and later from 1988 to 1990.

Kennedy also served the Massachusetts House of Representatives for the 46th Middlesex District from 1975 to 1979. He was a member of the Massachusetts Governor's Council from 1989 to 1995, and served as the economic development director for the 5th Congressional District.

Kennedy oversaw the LRTA for about a decade, beginning in 1994. While at the LRTA, Kennedy was fond of saying, on numerous occasions, that the train/bus station was a connection point to any location on the globe. 

"If there was a need for a new route to better meet the needs of our students, all I had to do was call and it was done immediately," recalled Mayor Bill Samaras, who was the former headmaster at Lowell High School. "That's how he did his work."

Students had to pay for bus rides, and some couldn't afford it. Kennedy would send tickets to the high school, so social workers or guidance counselors could offer them to students in need.

But there was always a price, Samaras reflected.

"If the governor was coming to the LRTA to see something, he'd ask, 'You think I can have the band?' " Samaras recalled. "For everything he did for the high school, I'd tell him no problem.

"I'd get another call. 'Could we maybe have the football team come there?' " Samaras remembered. "I'd get another call the next morning. 'Could we have the cheerleaders?' He was so proud of the high school and city, and made sure we got acknowledged for what we did."

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.