Pat Kennedy, a visionary for Columbia

The Baltimore Sun

Not quite a mayor and not a CEO either, Padraic "Pat" Kennedy held a job unlike any other as the first and longest-serving president of the Columbia Association.

Kennedy, who was president of the association from 1972 to 1998, was honored yesterday with a scholarship fund created in his name by the Horizon Foundation. The award, pegged to Columbia's 40th anniversary, recognized Kennedy's longtime service to the planned community he led from its earliest days.

"It was amazing," said Richard Krieg, president of the Horizon Foundation and the one who presented the award. "He was clearly surprised and he was just tremendously moved by it."

Kennedy, 73, who was recently chairman of the Horizon Foundation and still serves on the board, had no idea he would receive the recognition at a Horizon meeting yesterday.

The Kennedy Scholarship was endowed with $40,000, which will provide income for two students taking health-related classes at Howard Community College, Krieg said.

Kennedy's previous experiences, particularly as one of the first 10 employees of the Peace Corps, seemed to prepare him well for the unusual job of running an entirely new kind of community.

"The Peace Corps sort of drops you in a place and says, 'Go out and do good works,'" said Krieg, a fellow Peace Corps alumnus. "I would say that Pat really appreciates and kind of embodies the Peace Corps model in terms of doing everything that's possible to improve the quality of life. You have to have a pragmatic plan and to involve others in it and make sure it is feasible and doable and then do it in a specific period of time."

Kennedy said he was not the first choice to head the Columbia Association - that was his boss at Boise Cascade, the paper-company conglomerate where Kennedy was working at the time.

But that person recommended Kennedy, and Kennedy did not hesitate. He knew about Columbia, and admired James W. Rouse, its creator. "Jim Rouse was an amazing man," he said. "You could not help but have great faith in him, in his vision, in his view of what was possible."

Kennedy started work in January 1972, when Columbia was still very much under construction.

The association was not a government but was instead a corporation with the mission of delivering services to residents. Kennedy created programs such as Columbia Association camps and lakefront festivals, started before- and aftercare programs and ran facilities including the Columbia Arts Center.

He also started co-op nurseries, but those were phased out as more women entered the work force and did not have time to volunteer in the classrooms, he said. That was just one example of how the association changed to meet the needs of residents, he said.

Howard County has changed tremendously, in large part because of Rouse and Columbia, Kennedy said. As recently as 50 years ago, it was a sleepy, segregated rural county, said Kennedy. Now it is one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse places in the nation.

Kennedy had nobody in a similar role to guide him. Mayors and governors share ideas at conferences, and business executives attend seminars and read books. But there had never before been a community like Columbia. Smaller planned communities existed, including one fairly nearby in Reston, Va., but "there was nothing that was on the scale of Columbia," he noted.

Kennedy solved that problem by hiring the very best people he could and relying on them, he said. By the time he left in 1999, the association had grown to a staff of about 1,300, with a budget of about $50 million.

Maggie J. Brown, the current president of the Columbia Association, has known Kennedy for years, serving as his vice president from 1993 until his retirement.

"He was a person who had vision," she said.

He also was a good listener, she said. "In a young and growing community where people had lots of ideas, I think he was effective in being able to sort those out," she said.

In addition, "he was always looking for talent," she said. "If he met you and saw something in you that you might not even see in yourself, and if he felt you could be an asset to the organization, he always made that known."

Kennedy, a native New Yorker, attended Columbia University before moving to Wisconsin to earn a graduate degree in American history from the University of Wisconsin. While in Madison, he worked for the local campaign to elect John F. Kennedy as president.

"When the president gave his speech about the Peace Corps, I was really fired up," recalled Kennedy.

In 1961, Kennedy became one of the first 10 employees of the new president's ambitious program to spread goodwill around the world. He set up the organization's first training group and took the first 50 volunteers to Ghana.

"I was the first person to see the Peace Corps in action overseas," he said.

His title became director of volunteer support, and he stayed with the Peace Corps until 1964. While working for the Peace Corps, Kennedy met such luminaries as Bill Moyers, Paul Tsongas and of course, Sargent Shriver, the president's brother-in-law and the creator of the Peace Corps.

From there, Kennedy went to VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a domestic program similar to the Peace Corps; and then to Boise Cascade, where he became vice president of an urban housing group, creating low- and moderate-priced housing, he said.

Though his career seemed to twist and turn, everything he did "had to do with community building," he said.

Kennedy and his wife, Ellen, have two grown children and four grandchildren. From the windows of the Wilde Lake home where he has lived for 35 years, he can admire the changing seasons over the water. Rouse used to live next door.

Even after he left the Columbia Association job, Kennedy remained active in the community, recently serving as chairman of the board for the Horizon Foundation. Though his stint as chairman ended in February, he remains on the board.

And that is where he was yesterday when he learned that a scholarship had been named in his honor.

During the meeting, awards were presented to Andrea Ingram, executive director of the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center; Barbara Lawson, who is retiring from her longtime post as head of the Columbia Foundation; and Alpha Achievers, a group that provides role models for male African-American students.

After those awards were presented, Krieg surprised Kennedy by announcing the scholarship.

"I said there's one individual that we feel is second only in impact to Jim Rouse himself," said Krieg. He started to list Kennedy's accomplishments. "In the middle of that paragraph, he realized who it was, and I just said, 'My friend and old Peace Corps buddy, Pat Kennedy.'"

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad