Smith was viewed for much of her life as a quiet Kennedy sister who shunned the spotlight. In her memoir, â€œThe Nine of Us,â€ published in 2016, she wrote that her childhood seemed â€œunexceptional” for much of the time.
â€œIt is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,â€ she explained. â€œAt the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration.â€
Though she never ran for office, she campaigned for her brothers, traveling the country for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy as he sought the presidency in 1960.
Prior to JFK’s assassination in November 1963, Smith stepped in that year for a traveling Jacqueline Kennedy and co-hosted a state dinner for Irelandâ€™s president.
The same year, she accompanied her brother â€” the first Irish Catholic president in the U.S. â€” on his famous visit to Ireland. Their great-grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, was from Dunganstown in County Wexford in southeastern Ireland.
Three decades later, Smith was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton, who called her â€œas Irish as an American can be.â€
During her confirmation hearing, she recalled the trip to that country with her brother, describing it as â€œone of the most moving experiences of my own life.â€
As ambassador, she played a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. She helped persuade Clinton to grant a controversial visa in 1994 to Gerry Adams, chief of the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein party. The move defied the British government, which branded Adams as a terrorist.
She later called criticism of her actions toward the IRA â€œunfortunateâ€ and said she thought history would credit the Clinton administration with helping the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said in 1998, â€œIt is not an understatement to say that if (the visa for Adams) didnâ€™t happen at the time, perhaps other events may not have fallen into place.â€
In 1996, though, Smith was reprimanded by Secretary of State Warren Christopher for punishing two of her officers who objected to the visa for Adams.
In December 1998, Smith again risked controversy by taking communion in a Protestant cathedral in Dublin, going against the bishops of her Roman Catholic church.
Her decision was a strong personal gesture of support for Irish President Mary McAleese, a fellow Catholic who had been criticized by Irish bishops for joining in the Protestant communion service.
â€œReligion, after all, is about bringing people together,â€ Smith told The Irish Times. â€œWe all have our own way of going to God.â€
When she stepped down as ambassador in 1998, she received Irish citizenship for â€œdistinguished service to the nation.â€
Diplomacy, along with politics, also ran in the Kennedy family. Her father was ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1940. Niece Caroline Kennedy served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.
â€œWeâ€™re the first father-daughter ambassadors,â€ Smith told The Irish Times in 1997. â€œSo I canâ€™t remember a time when we were not an actively political family.”
In addition to a life in politics, Smith founded Very Special Arts, an educational program that supports artists with physical or mental disabilities.
Her 1993 book with George Plimpton, â€œChronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists,â€ features interviews with disabled artists. The program followed in the footsteps of her sister Euniceâ€™s creation of the Special Olympics for disabled athletes.