RIP George R. Kenney (8/29/23-6/17/14)
Yesterday morning, in the early hours, my dad passed away in his sleep. I went to check on him at 5:00 a.m. and found him gone. He was a great man, a good man, much beloved and highly respected. He'd had a happy and productive life. I believe he'll enjoy whatever the next phase of his journey may bring.
He was born in Galesburg, IL, the son of a bar tender. His mother (she was the smart one, a Warfield, but not of the Baltimore Warfields) left the family when he was about five; his father's mother raised him. He worked as a shoe salesman at JC Penney, was drafted during the war, and served as a cipher clerk with the 449th Bomb Group of the Army Air Corps, stationed at their forward operating base called Grottaglie Field, near Taranto in southern Italy.
He hated the war. Thought it was crazy. So in hopes of helping prevent future wars he decided to try to become a diplomat and took advantage of the GI Bill to attend the University of Chicago. He made it through the foreign service exam system, taking his oral exam in Washington. When the exam was over his examiner told him, "I've never heard anyone say 'I don't know' in so many different ways!" But he was hired.
He'd wanted to become a middle east specialist but was initially assigned to Thailand. That assignment, however, was broken and for some unknown reason he was sent to Trieste. He pulled some strings and had my mom, then his sweetheart, who happened to be with military intelligence, also reassigned to Trieste. Although the situation was supposed to be temporary they got married in Trieste (which required her leaving government service) and he worked there for several years. Subsequently they moved to Algiers, where I was born, to Boston for a Harvard MA at government expense, back to Washington, to the Belgian Congo in the early 1960s, to Brussels, back to Washington again in 1968, and then to Paris, to Brasilia, a quick stop for a year as diplomat in residence at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, and finally to New Delhi, his last post. He was a foreign service officer for 35 years, retiring with the protocol equivalent rank of a two star general. He would have risen higher but he didn't like working in Washington and he'd turned down a minor Ambassadorship so more senior positions remained out of reach. Nevertheless, his colleagues and his bosses felt he was one of the most able officers of his generation. As a quiet tribute to him, for example, the then Director General of the foreign service, George Vest, attended my swearing in.
My dad liked to have his own ideas about things and wasn't that impressed with conventional wisdom. Usually he was more right than wrong. He was less gifted at exploring his own feelings but he could observe himself with wry, and often extremely funny, detachment. He was charming. He had qualities that made him impossible to dislike.
He was pretty much self-sufficient until he had a heart attack two and a half years ago, on Thanksgiving Day. After that he never recovered his mobility although he remained mentally alert (both his short term and his long term memory were better than mine) until only two weeks ago, when he began to become disoriented.
He was lucky in that he passed easily and quickly. For me it's like the end of the world.
I love my dad and I'll miss him very much.