Professor Roger Kennedy: Telling the American Story
GW Professor Brought Dorothy's Ruby Slippers to Smithsonian, Fought for the Preservation of National Parks
Former GW professor of American Studies Roger G. Kennedy held many other important responsibilities during his long and successful career. In addition to serving six U.S. presidents, creating acclaimed documentaries for PBS, and reporting from Washington, D.C., for NBC News, the late Mr. Kennedy was the man who brought Dorothy's ruby slippers, Archie Bunker's chair, and Kermit the Frog to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
To top off his illustrious career, Mr. Kennedy led the National Park Service during the mid-1990s to a rejuvenation and expansion of the country's national park system. Roger Kennedy led a life that most of us can truly admire—steeped in learning about the world and dedicated to the notion that the best kind of legacy each of us can leave is an open door through which others may walk.
Sharing His Passion With the World
From start to finish, Mr. Kennedy's life's work reflected a passion for educating people about American history. Thus, when he was planning his estate, he gave considerable thought to how his plan could sustain his lifelong commitment to and enthusiasm for education and American history.
This commitment inspired him to designate a significant portion of his assets—which will ultimately come to GW through his wife Frances' estate—to establish the Roger G. Kennedy Fellowship Program in GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
This future endowed Fellowship Program will provide tuition support to enable National Park Service employees of three years' standing the opportunity to earn graduate credits at GW as "Kennedy Fellows." Ideally they, in turn, will be inspired to teach others about the wonders of America—be it the country's natural beauty, its rich heritage, or its venerable history.
In 1979, Mr. Kennedy arrived at the National Museum of American History ready to share his passion for knowledge with the world. As its director, he threw open the doors to "America's attic" with provocative exhibitions that featured the set of the TV show M*A*S*H and explored the internment of Japanese- Americans during World War II, among others.
What he cared most about was drawing people into the museum and keeping them engaged while there. A natural teacher, he had no qualms about dispensing knowledge, once declaring to Newsweek that "I'll teach history to anybody I can get my mitts on."
Thirteen years later, the ebullient Mr. Kennedy was tapped for the top spot at the National Park Service, where he was known and admired for wearing the Park Service uniform in a show of solidarity with his national staff, and where he created a culture within the organization that empowered them to act not only as employees, but as the country's frontline curators of American history.
Eight parks were added to the system under his leadership, and he fought fiercely to protect the NPS from Congressional interference in its scope and authority. When Mr. Kennedy died in September of 2011, the Park Service's current director, Jonathan B. Jarvis, observed, "Roger made it possible for everyone to have a stake in the national parks, and made the National Park Service part of school curriculums throughout the nation."
How You Can Join Roger G. Kennedy in His Efforts
Today, with the Roger G. Kennedy Fellowship Program assured at GW through a generous future endowment, friends and family are working actively to raise funds to trigger the program into an early start.
They are committed to honoring Mr. Kennedy's vision and hope to give NPS employees access to this unique educational opportunity sooner rather than later. Columbian College Dean Peg Barratt hopes to launch the program in January of 2013, and, in so doing, bring the Roger Kennedy Fellowships to reality. Please contact John Kendrick at 877-498-7590 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn about how you can help carry on Roger's devotion to our history or create your own legacy at GW.