She was considered an encyclopedia of knowledge who could do a Times crossword puzzle in under five minutes. She could discuss John Stewart Mill with you, and Bertram Russell, Plato, Aristotle. She saved countless lives, brought babies into the world and offered a loving hand to soldiers on both sides of the front lines at a hospital in England during the Second World War. But what Vivienne Kennedy will likely be most remembered for was her devotion and compassion in everything she did. At 94, Vivienne was laid to rest last week, but her legacy will live in the hearts of many.
In the early ’40s Vivienne was a 19-year-old nurse who nurtured soldiers back to health at a hospital in Sheffield, England. There she met the love of her life, Newfoundlander Thomas Kennedy. Kennedy had been serving as an air crew soldier.
“His plane crashed and he was in hospital and that’s where she met him,” Patrick Kennedy said of his father.
In September 1945, Vivienne and Thomas married. Less than a year later she moved to Newfoundland. A few years later Patrick was born. He said when his mother first moved to the island there was a shortage of nurses. “My wife’s aunt was the head nurse down at the old Seaman’s hospital,” Kennedy said. “She found out (Vivienne) was in town and offered her a job. So, as soon as she got here, she started working.”
In those days women didn’t often work outside of the home. “But she worked anyway,” he said. “My mother was a very independent soul. It was frowned upon to work and, in fact. some hospitals wouldn’t allow women to work if they were married, as I understand, years ago.”
Shortly after Confederation, Patrick’s father began working for the federal government and was stationed in Burin. He began a radio station there and Vivienne worked at the hospital in obstetrics. Not long after that his father was posted to Cape Race, which in those days was a very vibrant community.
“When she was down there, she didn’t nurse. Instead, if anyone was hurt or injured she did it all and then in ’57 my father was sent back to St. John’s and (Mom) went back to work down to the General Hospital. Within three months she was appointed the head nurse of DVA (Department of Veteran’s Affairs).”
She stayed in that role till her retirement in 1985.
“So, she looked after the veterans from 1957 to 1985,” Patrick said. “You talk to the nurses that knew her and they said she did so much for so many.”
People who knew Vivienne describe her as a gentle and quiet soul who had a life-long love affair with learning. When her husband died at age 55, she was only 50. She returned to England to study midwifery.
“She went and got the formal qualifications for it — she did it because she just loved learning,” said Patrick. “A couple of years after that she decided to go back and do the plastic surgery one, so she went back and did the specialization in plastic surgery in Britain. This is the way she was — she wanted to do that. She was very well educated, very astute.”
“She was just always a very positive woman,” said Betty Lou Kennedy, Patrick’s wife. “She always looked forward with hope and anticipation to things being resolved.”
She said Vivienne was a very spiritual person, but was never overbearing and never imposed her own views on others.
“She just lived her life as a good Christian and a good Catholic.
“She cared a lot about people and she took time for them. ... She always had that bedside manner and she taught that to the thousands of nursing students who went through there. She taught them compassion, stuff you couldn’t learn about in a book.”
Vivienne’s life was celebrated during a Mass of Christian burial at Mary Queen of Peace Church, on Torbay Road Friday, Oct 11. Donations in her memory were directed to the St. Paul’s Parish, family aid committee.