Bill Kennedy has served as director of NMCRS Mayport, Florida for 15 years
When US Navy Captain Bill Kennedy retired in 1994, he was the last person to serve as commanding officer of the USS Saratoga (CV-60) homeported in Mayport, Florida. Kennedy had no idea what he wanted to do next. After 30 years in the Navy, including 20 flying off of aircraft carriers, then 10 more years driving ships, he needed a new challenge.
“For several years I worked with the USO out of NAS Jacksonville,” Kennedy recalled. “One morning a young military spouse came in with two small children. We were doing USO grams where people could take a disc and write a letter to send to someone who was deployed. As the family was leaving, I could tell things weren’t going well. I asked, ‘Is everything ok?’ and she started to cry and said she didn’t have money for food. I said, ‘Wait a minute, let me make a phone call.’ I called the NMCRS office on the base and told them I was sending over a family. I told the military spouse where to go and NMCRS provided the assistance she needed. After that, I thought, ‘that was just as satisfying as what I did in my Navy career.’”
“When I was executive officer of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) out of Norfolk, Virginia and we were deployed, we averaged 15 messages a day from the American Red Cross about family members who were contacting their Sailors to inform them of emergencies back home. The chaplains were in charge of getting the messages and taking care of the Sailors. Our main focus was to work with NMCRS. The luxury of being deployed aboard an aircraft carrier is that we had airplanes that could get our people ashore. Most often the messages were about an immediate family member who was seriously ill or dying. It could’ve been a young wife who was having a difficult birth, or a newborn that wasn’t doing well. We’d tell the chaplains, ‘let’s get them off the ship. When’s the next flight leaving?’”
“I remember one time when the ship was in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands one of our crew members was robbed and shot and died. NMCRS Mayport went above and beyond to help the young lieutenant’s family. I always had a close relationship with NMCRS and a soft spot for the work they did. When I retired, I realized my life’s vocation was working with and helping Sailors.”
So Kennedy wrote a letter to then-president of NMCRS, Admiral Jerry Johnson, and said he would like to be considered for a director position when one opened up. “About two years later, an opening came up in Mayport and I interviewed for the job. I’d been stationed at Naval Base Mayport, so when they asked how much I knew about the base and about NMCRS I thought I did pretty well.” He started as director of NMCRS Mayport on October 1, 2001.
“This is such a rewarding job,” Kennedy said. “We’re blessed in a lot of ways. Originally our office was located in a base housing duplex that was falling apart, but it was demolished and we were relocated into the same building as the base commanding officer. We have outstanding volunteers. I love working with the people here and at NMCRS headquarters.”
Congratulations on 15 years with the Society, Bill!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso