Tom Kennedy - a tribute
Tom Kennedy was born in 1951 in the “Centerville” neighborhood of the City of Brockton, Mass; the home of working class heroes like undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano; John “Buck” O’ Brien of the 1916 World Champion Red Sox, and World War II missionary priest Fr. John Sheehan, O.M.I.. Kennedy himself has risen to be a champion of his neighborhood in the political arena, and is recognized and respected as a man who has “never forgotten where he came from.”
Kennedy graduated high school and entered the Missionary Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate to prepare for the Catholic priesthood. But in 1971, a three-story fall while washing a window at Our Lady of Hope Seminary in Newburgh, N.Y. left him tetraplegic.
After a two year period of hospitalization and rehabilitation, Tom returned to Brockton, re-adapted to his community, and realized a new vocation.
“I had to reassess my goals and move into a new direction in my life. As a quadriplegic, I returned to my hometown and my family residence that had little – to - no accessibility for a wheelchair user. Thankfully, over the years, both have become quite well adapted for my use and for many others of varying levels of physical challenges,” recalls Kennedy.
While awaiting return to university, newly elected Brockton Mayor David Crosby offered young Kennedy a job on his staff as city ombudsman- a post he held from 1974 to 1978.
“He (Crosby) was a man whom I had great respect and admiration for and I relished the opportunity to serve under him. He taught me the values and virtues that are necessary to be a good public servant.”
At the urging of friends and family, Kennedy ran, and was elected to Brockton City Council in 1978 – serving with distinction for eight years. He served as congressional legislative aide to Congressman Brian Donnelly in his Brockton District office. In 1983, Kennedy ran for State Representative from Brockton and was elected, topping the field of 10 candidates. He has been in this position for the past two decades.
Kennedy, now 54, makes a point of remembering where he came from and works hard and well for all of his constituents. He has served as vice - chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee; has been instrumental in the passage of key pieces of legislation; and sticks to his budget priorities of fiscal stability, community policing and crime control, healthcare initiatives, and economic assistance for urban communities.
“When I first got elected to the Massachusetts
House of Representatives, I was the only one of the 160 members in a
wheelchair, but not the only member who had a disability. Because there
were a number of forward-thinking and well-intentioned advocates who
were already serving in the House, and had made impressive in-roads
in advancing an agenda favorable to the disabled community, I did not
think it right for me to assume the mantle of the chief crusader on
handicap issues – rather, I added my own voice and physical presence
to serve as a reminder of what has been accomplished and what desperately
needs to be advanced in the realm of rights for the disabled.”
Tom Kennedy is tireless and his public service has been prolific. In 1993 he received “National Legislator of the Year” honors from the National Association for Home Care for his work in childcare, elderly issues, and home health care. In 2004, the American Association of People with Disabilities honored him with the Jefferson Cup award for his commitment to the disabled community.
Kennedy, who recently recovered from his seventh surgery to defeat bone infections in both hips, just completed his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Kennedy’s key for a successful life as an elected public servant: “Paying close attention to the important duty of constituent services constantly year in and year out, responding to citizen inquiries and problems in a rapid and efficient fashion; personally reaching out to the voters and residents of my district in numerous venues, such as newsletters, publication, personal contact, public events, etc.; working hard at every election cycle, and taking every opponent seriously.”
Kennedy’s key for a successful life: “Try your best to focus on the positive. Nurture the great gift of faith, turn to God for help and guidance, and hope for the blessings of friends and family to carry you through.”
Thomas Kennedy served in the Massachusetts State Senate from 2009 until his death in 2015, of pneumonia.