Helen Kennedy, served 5 county executives

September 07, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Helen B. Kennedy, who was executive secretary and "den mother" to five Baltimore County executives before her retirement in 1984, died Tuesday of bone cancer at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 78.

Mrs. Kennedy's tenure as guardian of the inner sanctum for five county executives began with Spiro T. Agnew in 1964 and ended with Donald P. Hutchinson in 1984.

"When I walked in as county executive, I was 32 and I needed all of the vast knowledge that she possessed," Mr. Hutchinson, now president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, recalled yesterday. "Because she went back so far, she could shed light on people and issues."

Mr. Hutchinson praised Mrs. Kennedy's abilities and added, "She could keep confidences.

"She was steady and understood the quirkiness of the executives' different styles but remained adaptable. She was admired by them and never uttered a nasty word about any of them, either."

Mrs. Kennedy began working for Mr. Agnew during his second term. In a 1984 article in The Sun about her retirement, she said, "I found Ted Agnew very easy to work for, although he was always very formal as far as I was concerned. He was always beautifully dressed and was a person I felt had a lot of class."

She said later that she was "shocked and extremely upset" when she learned that Mr. Agnew, as vice president, had accepted kickbacks in exchange for engineering contracts while county executive and governor.

She described her relationship with the county executives as "strictly professional," but she shared their triumphs and sorrows.

During Dale Anderson's 1974 trial for conspiracy, bribery, extortion and income tax evasion, Mrs. Kennedy felt uncomfortable testifying in court and was shocked when federal prosecutors brought charges against Mr. Anderson and William Fornoff, who was administrative officer to Mr. Agnew and Mr. Anderson.

She described Mr. Anderson as being a "caring person" who "never cussed in front of me because he respected me."

She was philosophical about her role in the lives of the county executive.

"I'm the den mother. It's one of my failings, to mother everybody," she said in the 1984 article.

Her successor as executive secretary, Sam Miller, called Mrs. Kennedy her mentor.

"Confidentiality goes with the job, and the executives need to know that the trust is there. Helen was the epitome of professionalism and calm in that job," Ms. Miller said.

"Helen really enjoyed being the power behind the throne and used to say, 'We're the gate-keepers,' " said Ms. Miller, now an executive secretary with the Maryland Port Administration.

A resident of Pickersgill in Towson for the past two years, Mrs. Kennedy had lived earlier in Dulaney Towers and Kingsville.

The former Helen Benson was born and raised in Catonsville and was a 1935 graduate of Catonsville High School. She went to work as a secretary for the American Totalisator Co. where she met Leonard D. Kennedy Sr., who was the company's racetrack operations manager. They married in 1940. Mr. Kennedy died in 1976.

Services for Mrs. Kennedy will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

She is survived by a son, Leonard D. Kennedy of Asbury, N.J.; two daughters, Donna L. Biemiller of Westminster and Sharon B. Svehla of Perry Hall; and six grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 43025, Baltimore 21236-0025; or to the Alzheimer's Association, Central Maryland Chapter, 1850 York Road, Timonium 21093.

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