Christopher Merritt Kennedy
Died: Sunday, February 03, 2013
Christopher Merritt Kennedy, of Damariscotta, died early Sunday morning after a long and wonderful life and a short illness, surrounded by family and friends.
Chris was born in 1932 in Brooklyn, New York to John Kennedy, a banker, and Louise Merritt. He got into enormous trouble as a young boy for carving a divot into their Grand Avenue brownstone with a pocketknife he had been given, a mark the building still bears. A lifelong love of airplanes and automobiles led to an engineering scholarship at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he often said he first felt truly at home. At Swarthmore he met Jane MacLean Walker and they married in 1954 the day after Christmas while Chris was on leave from the United States Army.
After his military service they moved to Michigan, where he began a career as an engineer with the Chrysler Corporation. At Chrysler he ran the companyís suspension design department, became an expert on automobile tires, rolled a Volkswagen Beetle in a handling test at the Chrysler proving grounds with a vice-president in the passenger seat, worked on Richard Pettyís NASCAR team, tuned an open-wheel car for the Indianapolis 500, designed and built race cars on the side, and helped secure the Congressional loan guarantees that saved the company in the 1970s. Of all of it, he was proudest that as Chryslerís lead engineer in the then-nascent field of automobile safety, he played a central role in the national effort to mandate the use of safety belts, a step that has since saved tens of thousand of lives.
An introduction to Maine through Janeís family summer house on MacMahan Island in the Sheepscot River led to a deep love of the state. When Chris retired from Chrysler in the mid-1980s, he and Jane moved first to Newcastle and then to a house they designed and built on the Damariscotta River. His life in Damariscotta was active, engaged, and warm; he served as president of the board of the Round Top Center for the Arts, helped raise funds for the construction of the new Skidompha Public Library, became an active parishioner at St. Andrews Church, was a member of the ROMEO lunch group (Retired Old Men Eating Out), and was amazed and delighted by his and Janeís large, vital, and always growing group of loving friends.
In Chrisís final battle with prostate cancer, he was attended by his younger daughter, Martha, a Ph.D. nurse practitioner at John Hopkins Hospital, and a remarkable group of devoted caregivers, especially Bill Burleson, Dory Coffren, and Kelsey Chute. With him and Jane, were their daughter Betsy Massanek, her husband Gary, grandchildren Alex and Geoff, and their son David and his partner Alison Johns.
Chris loved his family, his friends, clear and honest thinking, the familyís many dogs and cats, champagne, salt water, designing and flying model airplanes, Formula 1 racing, reading history, roast beef, travel, cars, banjo music, Swarthmore, his homeís lovely view of the Damariscotta River, his niece Heatherís singing, toys that fly and/or shoot, giving the perfect gift at Christmas, Pete Seeger, the stopwatch Jane gave him as a wedding present, and the everyday wonder that he saw and helped others see in the world. In his final days, he also developed an astonishing enthusiasm for ice cream with chocolate sauce. He will be inexpressibly missed.
A memorial service for Chris will be held later this month at a day and time to be announced. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to either the Skidompha Public Library, PO Box 70, Damariscotta, ME 04543; or to Miles & St. Andrews Home Health & Hospice, c/o Development Office, 35 Miles Street, Damariscotta, ME 04543.
Arrangements are under the direction and care of the Strong-Hancock Funeral Home, 612 Main Street, Damariscotta. Condolences, and messages for the family, may be expressed by visiting: www.StrongHancock.com.