Mention the name Emsley Kennedy and one’s first thought moves instantly to the city of Clinton. The second thought — a recollection of what a gentleman he truly was. After that, the adjectives just seem to flow, from affable to dedicated, humorous to compassionate, knowledgeable to involved.
All those thoughts and so many more are synonymous with Clinton’s longtime mayor who died late last week at the age of 90.
But Kennedy’s legacy will live on in our fair city and beyond because of the mark he made during a stellar career, first as a council member and then as mayor, a position he held for 28 years.
His life was focused on service, and the long list of his involvements, locally and across the region, stand as a testament to that fact. In addition to his 44 years as a council member and mayor, Kennedy also served on the local Department of Social Services board, the Governor’s Law and Order Commission, the N.C. League of Municipalities, the Dept. of Aging Advisory Board, the Clinton-Sampson Recreation Board and the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments. He was a member of the Lions Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Masons and the Shriners. And that long list really on scratches the surface of the places, agencies and boards he touched.
Kennedy’s involvement was so deep and his service so much a part of the man he was that the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments named an annual award in his honor recognizing an outstanding municipal officials in the region, a feat that only serves to accentuate the man he was and how much others thought of him.
But the truest testament to the mark Kennedy made can be seen as you walk the streets of Clinton, enjoy the recreational activities that are offered, utilize the Clinton-Sampson Airport or visit any of a number of businesses and industries that now call this fair city home.
All can, in one way or another, be attributed to Kennedy, whose vision for the city was years ahead of his time.
Current Mayor Lew Starling credits Kennedy for helping lay the foundation for many of the successes Clinton now enjoys, including seeing the need for infrastructure to support a growing community, and we believe Starling’s assessment to be a true one.
Emsley Kennedy had a great understanding of municipal government and what it should offer its residents, and he worked hard every day to ensure that those who called Clinton home reaped the benefits of that type government. What’s more, he saw to it that his visions were set within fiscally responsible boundaries, understanding the needs but balancing them against what the city could afford to spend to provide those needs.
The end result was a thriving town that continues to grow.
Kennedy was the sower of the seeds that have blossomed around us, and for many years he was also the nurturing force that allowed them to grow.
One could point to dozens of other avenues that helped to shape Kennedy — his love of golf; his passion for flying; his business acumen; his economic development savvy; his love of family; his devotion to his faith — but his love of Clinton and his determination to make this city the very best it could be will always set atop that list.
Clinton was in Kennedy’s blood and the heartbeat of this town was struck by the man who held the mayor’s post for so many years.
Many, including us will continue to mourn his passing, but we do it with a knowledge that Kennedy is now in a far better place and that the life he lived here will continue to be a shining example of the faithful servant he truly was his entire life.