The Beginning: Catherine’s Story

On the heels of a move in the early 1980’s to New Haven, CT from her native England, with her husband and three children in tow, Catherine Kennedy dove into community betterment as a volunteer. She quickly became a member of the New Haven community who was known and loved for her commitment to helping others.

Before her arrival in America, Catherine taught economics. The more volunteer work she endeavored, the more important it became to combine her theoretical knowledge of economics with her experiential work. She was sure that enrollment in the Yale School of Management would carve a path to a new, more practical career.

Graduation in 1986 led to a position with a major insurance company in Hartford as a consultant in the Employee Benefits Division. A few months of analyzing public policy relating to health insurance and pension benefits, Catherine struggled to maintain her expectation of making a difference as an agent of change. She believed there were gross inequities in the health care system and the work became a source of frustration.

By 1987 she worked to balance the responsibilities that come with nurturing three children and her full-time job. At the end of the day there was little time left for volunteer work; little time to feel like she was making a real difference for others. A discussion with her chaplain turned her attention to the critical issue of HIV/AIDs.

The Idea: Leeway’s Story

Having absolutely no knowledge of HIV/AIDS or the communities it affected, Catherine began her education on the subject at our colleague organization, AIDS Project New Haven. In 1987 there was only one form of in-patient care available to individuals with HIV/AIDS, acute care in a hospital setting. After an acute episode, AIDS patients had to remain at the hospital, as there wasn’t a place for them to go for the appropriate level of care. Catherine immediately recognized a need for a hospice dedicated to individuals with HIV/AIDS.

The Plan

The years of planning for Leeway would bring endless hours of research, exploring best practices of existing models of AIDS Hospice and care, public policy debates and lobbying to build in the appropriate allowances that would enable cost-effective and quality care at Leeway. Ultimately Catherine landed on the nursing home model as the best fit for the needs of individuals with HIV/AIDS.

All Catherine needed now was an administrator’s license. She acted quickly and enrolled at the University of Connecticut for the appropriate course and began the required internship. Myriad meetings, conversations, introductions, and networking, networking, networking; and Catherine began to make progress in cultivating relationships that would help her bring her idea to fruition. She began to assemble a board of directors from colleagues she had worked with, individuals that surfaced through networking, and strong business and minority leaders throughout the community.

Then began the learning curve of finance for a nursing home, appropriate staffing for people with AIDS, who needed much more nursing care than the other models of skilled-nursing facilities. Then there was the daunting task of clearly articulating the need for Leeway. Eight years of grueling effort would pass before Leeway would open its doors.

The Opening

Catherine Kennedy, Founder of Leeway

Catherine Kennedy
Yale School of Management ’86

In the fall of 1995, we accepted our first resident at Leeway. Each year a celebration, Jose Day, is held to honor that occasion. Over the years many have come to Leeway for a chance at a new beginning, or to obtain the care needed to end their battle with AIDS with dignity. Leeway continues to be a nimble organization, responding to the specific and ever-changing needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. As advancements in technology and medicine continue, so do we continue to adapt and respond to the needs of our residents and supportive housing tenants.

Several of us at Yale SOM first got to know Catherine Kennedy, along with her husband, Paul, and their children as fellow parishioners at one of the Catholic churches in Southern Connecticut. We attended St. Thomas More House on Park Street in New Haven. Next we got to know her in class. Catherine was a well-spoken classmate with strong opinions, which she voiced quietly, but forcefully in her British accent during group discussions.

As a former teacher and the mother of three boys, she came to classes with a degree of confidence that she knew what she was talking about. If we wanted to debate with her, we had better come prepared. Catherine was well versed in philosophy and economics. She had taught economic classes in England and the States, before her husband, Paul, was invited to teach at Yale.

From our time in the St. Thomas More House community, one episode sticks out in particular that most clearly epitomizes the spirit of the Kennedy family. It was nearing Christmas, 1985. Decembers in New Haven can be cold, with temperature dropping below freezing most nights. Paul and Catherine Kennedy and their three boys were gathered with about twenty others at the home of Guido and Anne Calabresi. Their lovely home was a few miles from campus. Guido Calabresi is a Circuit Court Judge, a legal scholar, and a revered tenured professor at Yale Law School.

The congregation at the More House, mostly cradle-Catholics, had gathered for a near-holiday celebration before families headed in directions north, south, east or west for Christmas. The Calabresi’s offered a light supper, dessert and eggnog for all of us. At that time of the year, twilight ended before 5:00pm. As it got dark that night, we gathered closer together by the living room fire. I remember saying to Anne Calabresi that Tracy and I had to leave early, but she encouraged us to linger a bit longer for a yuletide treat. Suddenly, Anne Calabresi clinked a knife against her eggnog glass and announced, “The children have a surprise for you! They want you to go outside.”

Guido and Anne Calabresi

Guido and Anne Calabresi

Guido and Anne Calabresi

We put on scarves and overcoats for our venture to the back yard. A few people grabbed candles, lit them, and guided our steps as we wandered around the house to the rear yard. There we saw a barn glowing in candle light. As we got closer, we realized that the barn had been transformed into a sacred grotto. Inside was a menagerie of live animals, straw bails, a baby crib, robed boys, a young girl, and a baby.

The creche scene had been quietly reconstructed by the children and Anne Calabresi; it was a live replica of the birth of Jesus. All three Kennedy boys, James, John and Matt, were dressed as wise men. Other boys were dressed as Joseph and shepherds. Looking across the way, Catherine Kennedy was smiling broadly. With the candlelight flickering on her face, she seemed particularly pleased at the tableau.

As the years went by I often thought of Catherine, Paul, and those boys, and wondered how things had turned out. Many of us living in other parts of the country were admirers from afar. Catherine had become involved with healthcare after graduation and she wanted to make a difference. So she went to work searching for the right opportunity. We heard from our SOM pals that Catherine had founded an organization, called Leeway, Inc., in New Haven.

Leeway is an HIV/AIDS residential nursing home, and what a difference it makes! The Leeway home and the managing organization took Catherine over eight years to build, and it was clear that, despite obstacles, she never took NO for an answer. She endured and founded a lasting place for those suffering with this dreaded virus. All of her SOM classmates were thrilled to hear of the special recognition Catherine received for her work for HIV/AIDS from across the region: Yale’s SOM, Connecticut College, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. Leeway and Catherine Kennedy were gifts to the local community and to the greater health of Connecticut.

In 1998 we were very deeply saddened to hear of Catherine’s death, as few of us knew of her long illness. One of my prayers is that, like the Kennedy boys, our three daughters would be willing to be swept along in instances where passivity works, but to stand firm and tall, when a cause or higher level of activist is demanded. Catherine is one of the most principled women we met at Yale and we wish she were with us today to remind us of some of the things we should be thinking, or protesting, or building in our own private ways, because they are the right things to do.

Catherine, thank you for your positive examples for all of us. It is the rare individual that recognizes a need in their community and immediately takes action to find a solution. In those instances where a response to a community crisis is given, it is rare to find the legacy of an individual and an entire organization so many years later still answering the call of that need. Catherine Kennedy has forever left her imprint on the community with the founding of Leeway.

Catherine Kennedy, 51, Dies; Ran Home for AIDS Patients

Catherine Kennedy, who after a long struggle established one of the nation’s first nursing centers for AIDS patients, died on Tuesday at her home in New Haven. She was 51. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, family members said.

Not long after moving to New Haven with her family in 1983, Mrs. Kennedy became aware of the lack of nursing centers and services for people with AIDS. Many were turned away by nursing homes. Some were being kept, at enormous expense, at hospitals essentially unequipped to treat them. Others were homeless.

She resolved to open a nursing center for AIDS patients but constantly encountered obstacles. She waged an eight-year struggle against financial and political obstacles to establish the home. Her experiences, which became a case study for the Harvard Business School, exemplified how someone involved in social entrepreneurship could overcome great odds.

After two years of research and attempts to raise money, she received a $60,000 grant from the Merck Family Fund. When she sought help from the State Legislature, she encountered indifference and fear of AIDS among the public, as well as hostility from legislators more interested in cutting health-care funds than increasing them. But she gained the help of Lucie McKinney, the widow of Representative Stewart McKinney, who had died of AIDS, to plead her case with Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

The Governor was persuaded and, with others, gained passage of a bill to provide special funding for her project that included daily patient costs that were substantially less than full hospitalization and $3 million to renovate an old factory in New Haven. In 1995, the home opened in the reconverted factory as Leeway Inc. Mrs. Kennedy ran it until last fall, when she was forced to resign because of her illness. In that time about 150 patients had been treated.

Catherine Urwin Kennedy was born on Feb. 12, 1947 in Wallsend, England. She received a Bachelor of Arts in economics and a master’s in economic history from the University of East Anglia in England, where she later taught. She also earned a master’s degree at Yale’s school of management. She married Paul Kennedy, the author and Yale historian, in 1967. Besides her husband, she is survived by three sons, James and Matthew, of New Haven, and John, of New York, and two brothers and two sisters, all of England.

It was through her affiliation with Yale that she was able to apply for her patients’ participation in the university’s experimental research in AIDS medication and treatment. Mrs. Kennedy’s original goal was to build a home to shelter and care for dying patients. But today, Leeway staff members said, nearly half of the patients can be sent home with reasonable chances of survival. Among them was Fred Tyson, who is going back to work as a casting director in Hollywood.

“She got us involved,” he said of Catherine Kennedy. “And I truly believe I would not be alive if it weren’t for her.”

Paul M. Kennedy, CBE FBA

Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy was no shrinking violet. He was a tenured professor in the history department at the time and a colossal intellectual. He honed his skills studying with some of the keenest minds at Newcastle University, St. Antony’s College – Oxford, University of East Anglia, the Royal Historical Society, the Institute for Advanced Study – Princeton, and the Humboldt Foundation in Germany. News of his soon-to-be released book was all-the-buzz from Fr. Richard Russell, our pastor, and from other members of the congregation. When the acclaimed book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), was first published, we realized what a massive undertaking it had been: 500 years of economic change and war crammed into 677 pages; that’s 13 1/2 pages per decade! And that book was in a long line of manuscripts on economics and politics to come.

During those years Catherine and Paul were somehow able to get their three near-teenaged sons to church every Sunday. We had our usual place in the pew behind the Kennedy’s. The boys were awake, dressed, and polite. They even paid attention to the sermons, no matter how dry and dreary. The boys, James, John, and Matthew, may have been growing faster than their Sunday best clothes, yet they never failed to smile and shake hands at the “sign of peace” during the service. More sullen boys would either have been absent or present but rude. As my wife, Tracy, and I looked at the Kennedy family, we wondered what we would be like as parents. We were only a few years younger than Catherine and Paul, but they seemed to have so much more on their plate. We marveled at Catherine’s quiet, purposeful life as a mother, grad student, wife and activist. During the holiday season, however, Catherine, Paul and the boys became willingly passive and submissive, letting the spirit lead.

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