Stephen F. Austin State University

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaks with SFA students

SFA welcomed a member of the Kennedy family to campus for a weeklong visit in February. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general, is the eldest child of Ethel Kennedy and the late U.S. Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. She participated in a public interview on campus and met with students and spoke to classes throughout the week, addressing topics such as volunteerism and public service, poverty, and religion's role in politics.

Townsend, a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, was interviewed by Judy McDonald, former president and CEO of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation. McDonald served on the Nacogdoches City Commission for 18 years and was the first female mayor of Nacogdoches.

McDonald said Townsend's experiences during some of America's most turbulent times give her an interesting perspective on both historical events and current issues.

"As a 12 year old, she lived through the death of her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and as a 17 year old she faced the death of her father, Robert Kennedy," McDonald said. "Immediately following the death of her uncle, her father sent her a note challenging her as the oldest grandchild to 'work for your country.' She accepted that challenge and has worked for social justice, peace, and above all, service to others."

During her years of public service, Townsend's work focused on issues including public safety and improving access to higher education. As the first female lieutenant governor of Maryland, Townsend led a variety of major cabinet departments, and in the attorney general's office, she worked diligently on the Police Corps, a program granting higher education scholarships to those who pledged to work as police officers.

For the past six years, Townsend has worked in the private sector and is now a senior adviser at a hedge fund managed by the former treasurer of the World Bank. She is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and the Inter-American Dialogue and serves on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the Robert Kennedy Memorial and the Brady Campaign.

Townsend said the overarching goal of her SFA visit was to encourage students to "get involved, get engaged."
"Politics is where the action is, and it's interesting and it's fun," she said. "I obviously came from a family that taught me that, but a lot of kids don't know that, and I want them to know they can."

Townsend is the author of Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Mixed God with Politics and Lost Their Way. She has appeared on Meet the Press, The Colbert Report, Larry King Live, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.

For more than 35 years, the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program has brought prominent artists, diplomats, journalists, business leaders and other nonacademic professionals to campuses across the United States for substantive dialogue with students and faculty members. The visiting fellows program is sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges, a national service organization that advances independent liberal arts colleges and universities by forming collaborations to strengthen programs and foster institutional effectiveness.

Interview with Judy McDonald