Ray Kennedy was a man of a hundred talents, with a persona to go with every one. He was a wit, a raconteur and a mime who seldom left a room without a ripple of laughter in his wake. He was a compulsive competitor, a gamesman of immense diversity—a grimly analytical chess player, a fiendish chop-and-cut adversary in tennis and Ping-Pong, a stickball player of amazing speed for a middle-aged man who was perennially overweight, the master of an absurd two-handed set shot that he could hit with astonishing regularity from midcourt. He was a serious, gifted journalist, a Notre Dame English major ('55) who became a police reporter with the City News Bureau in Chicago before he joined TIME in 1962 and went on to interview, charm and, as often as not, make lifelong friends of a wild variety of people, from Barbra Streisand and Mark Spitz to Artur Rubinstein, Rudolf Nureyev, Mark McCormack and Barry Switzer.
Kennedy did 25 cover stories for TIME before switching in 1974 to SI, for which he wrote about everything from college football to all-night Ping-Pong parlors. Besides being one of Time Inc.'s most versatile writers, he was also one of its most dependable party organizers, hallway humorists and gossip collectors (his office was known as Rumor Central). He was an accomplished caricaturist, a chef who mastered the perfect omelet, an admirer of Henry David Thoreau, Red Smith and Oscar Wilde, a worshiper of William Shakespeare. He was also an extraordinary father and a wonderful friend.
When Kennedy died of a heart attack last week at the age of 54, much of value departed this world. But he left a lot behind, too—most notably nine handsome children, ages 16 to 27, and his wife of 29 years. Patsy, one of the few people anywhere who is a better storyteller than Ray was. He managed with admirable frequency to include his family in the far-flung assignments he did over the years. When he was covering the 1972 Olympics in Munich for TIME, he imported Patsy and the whole brood (the youngest was eight months old) to share the experience, and he stashed them in his single hotel room. As one visitor recalled, "Every time you opened a dresser drawer, there'd be a Kennedy baby in it."
Kennedy's most noteworthy work for SI occurred in 1978, when he wrote a monumental three-part series on money and sports. Of all the talents Kennedy possessed, a knack for finance was definitely not one of them. Nevertheless, the story was a model of clarity. "My rule of thumb is that if I can't understand it. neither can the reader," he said.
June 5, 1988
Kennedy left our magazine in 1984. We missed him then, but we certainly didn't forget him. Nor will we ever.