An impromptu memorial was held in honor of a UCSB faculty member yesterday in front of the Women’s Center after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day silent march.

Dr. Shirley Kennedy, UCSB alumna and lecturer, died Monday at 8:00 a.m. of complications associated with cancer at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. She was 76.

“Shirley was an important member of our campus for more than three decades,” Chancellor Henry T. Yang said. “We are profoundly saddened by the tremendous loss of such a beloved member of our UCSB family.”

Kennedy earned her bachelor’s degree from UCSB in 1970 and her master’s degree in political science in 1972 while working as an academic adviser in the College of Letters and Science. In 1971 she founded the Black Cultural Festival to bring art, plays, films and lectures to UCSB. Kennedy was the acting director for the Center for Black Studies from 1982 to 1983, and in 1986 she earned her Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate School and became a lecturer in the Black Studies Dept. in 1987

“Shirley was a dear friend to my wife, Dilling, and me. I had enormous respect for her – for her accomplishments, of course, but also for who she was as a person. She was a woman of tremendous integrity and spirit. Whatever she did, she poured her whole heart and intellect into it. Dilling and I will miss her greatly, as will our campus and our community,” Yang said.

Co-workers remember her as a knowledgeable, tireless and motivating teacher.

“Shirley was a major factor anywhere she went,” said Otis Madison, a professor in the Black Studies Dept. “The most remarkable thing about Shirley is her boundless energy. When you took a class from Shirley Kennedy you knew you were going to have to work hard, but you also knew you were going to learn an awful lot. … I’d say any students who did not have the opportunity to take a class from Shirley missed out.”

She will be greatly missed in the university, especially in the Black Studies and Political Science Depts., in which she taught.

“Any time you lose a great faculty member, you lose a great teacher and scholar. That’s going to diminish the [Black Studies] department, but it’s also going to diminish the university as a whole,” Madison said.

Kennedy was also highly involved in the local community and worked hard to create a better relationship between UCSB and the community as the cultural and community affairs coordinator for UCSB’s Center for Black Studies, beginning in 1997, Yang said.

“Shirley was a dedicated teacher, a gifted mentor to students and an uncommonly principled, fair and generous individual,” said Keith Davis, Santa Barbara County Human Relations Commission administrator. “She was unalterably dedicated to furthering diversity on campus and in the broader community.”

In 1999 Kennedy became one of the founding co-chairs of Santa Barbara’s Building Bridges Community Coalition, a group dedicated to promoting tolerance and celebrating diversity through collaborative community projects including bringing a former slave ship turned museum to Santa Barbara for an exhibit entitled “A Slave Ship Speaks: the Wreck of the Henrietta Marie.”

“As a labor of love, and her dedication to educating the community about the African-American experience, Shirley’s time and energy spent on this project impacted the lives of well over 10,000 children and adults in Santa Barbara County,” Davis said.

Kennedy received many awards from both the university and the community. She received a faculty award from UCSB’s Black Student Union in 1994, an “Unsung Heroine” award from the UCSB Professional Women’s Association in 1998, and an Outstanding Faculty award from the Residence Halls Association in 1999. She has also been honored by the Santa Barbara community . In 1988 she received the Santa Barbara Independent’s Local Heroes award and in 2002 the Santa Barbara News-Press’s lifetime achievement award.

“The best way to honor my mother’s memory is to continue her work,” Kennedy’s daughter Shawn Kennedy said.

Shirley Kennedy was born Shirley Graves on Feb. 17, 1926 and grew up in Chicago where she met her husband, James Kennedy. The pair married in 1946 and had four children. The family traveled extensively and lived for an extended period of time in Japan before settling at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 1972.

Kennedy was a devoted wife and mother, balancing an ambitious career with home life. She is survived by her husband, retired Air Force Tuskeegee airman James Kennedy; her brother Max Graves; two daughters, Shawn and Royal Kennedy; two sons, Kevin and Colin Kennedy; two sons-in-law, Hal Brown and Johnathan Rodgers; a daughter-in-law, Juana Kennedy; and three grandchildren.

“You remember my mother as the activist, the teacher and the mentor. We remember a family that had a lot of fun,” Kevin Kennedy said. “My mother worked tirelessly and had a great sense of humor. She was an activist but we’re also talking about a major party animal.”

Kennedy’s family and the university are planning memorials, however no dates have been set.

“Shirley was a dedicated teacher, a gifted mentor to students and an uncommonly principled, fair and generous individual,” Davis said. “Although her life was much too short, her legacy will be lasting and will live through the many students, the Black Studies Dept. and the Building Bridges Community Coalition which she co-founded and so loved.”

– Nexus reporter Christine Bai also contributed to this story.