The 1989 Santa Clarita Valley Woman of the Year, Jami Kennedy, died at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital on the Fourth of July this year.
Her death comes in the wake of another SCV Woman of the year’s death, Charlotte Kleeman. Kleeman won the award in 1996 and died in May.
Kennedy grew up in Santa Clarita and was a long-time resident after briefly living in the San Fernando Valley. Kennedy spent decades volunteering for several organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, Zonta, the SCV Crisis Hotline, and the Red Cross. In her Woman of the Year biography, she was described as a “full-time volunteer.”
During the 1980s Kennedy and her husband owned a plumbing business that was forced to close when things got tough. Kennedy then went to work for The United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which was just the start of a long career in community service.
Her time at United Way was also where Kennedy developed her knack for fundraising, which she used to great effect later on.
Kennedy’s first post-retirement fundraising opportunity was the Boys and Girls Club auction, which she helped organize annually thereafter.
But fundraising wasn’t her only talent. Kennedy also had leadership qualities and was able to organize community efforts at an unparalleled level. Kennedy once led a grassroots effort to bring a family affected by Hurricane Rita in 2005 to Santa Clarita and provide for any need they had.
The effort was a success and the family was able to live rent-free in a furnished apartment for a year. Donations of food, clothes, furniture and even toys for the kids poured in. The father was able to get a job, the mother was able to get a high-school diploma and then went into nursing school, and the whole family was able to celebrate Christmas with a tree, presents and turkey dinner – all because of Kennedy’s leadership to inspire a community effort.
Her friend and 1983 Woman of the year, Barbara Cochran, said that Kennedy’s love and devotion for her community cannot be overstated.
“Jami had a heart of gold. If someone was in need, she was always there to help,” said Cochran. “She loved this community, and she loved all the people in it. She loves meeting new people because she would consider them as potential volunteers to improve this community.”
Cochran described Kennedy as someone who radiated with positivity and love. Cochran said her love for animals is an example of this. Kennedy served on the board for Carousel Ranch’s therapy on horseback and was a member of an organization dedicated to the preservation of gibbon apes.
Cochran also said that Kennedy loved birds and even had 50 of them in her home at one point.
“Oh, she loved them, she would talk to them,” said Cochran. “We would go over and visit her and she would take us into the bird arena. Oh my goodness, she loved those birds. She used to have several in her house all the time, they even sleep in her bedroom. She loved them, absolutely loved them.”
Cochran said that when she met Kennedy in 1983, she inspired her to become more involved in local organizations and to dedicate more time than she normally would have to serving others in the community. Cochran also said Kennedy was relentless in this venture, letting little to nothing get in her way.
“She always had a smile on her face. She always had a positive attitude. If anything came up that she felt overwhelmed, she went for it anyway,” said Cochran. “Or she would have asked us, asked her friends, ‘What do I need to do next?’…If we were able to, which usually some of us were, we [would] help her and gratefully help her. Because once she was your friend, she was your friend for life.”
Cochran and Kennedy did remain friends for life.