Former state rep Richard ‘Stretch’ Kennedy remembered for testy but generous spirit
Former state representative Richard “Stretch” Kennedy was always there.
In his seat in the back row of the legislative session.
At town meeting.
By a friend’s side, ready to help in whatever way he could.
“I really think he was just interested in community and people and contributing,” Contoocook resident Cameron Ford said. “That’s what he was best at, contributing to the community at large. He was always there. . . . Stretch would get up and say his piece. People didn’t always agree, but it was his voice, by gosh, he was certainly going to exercise his rights in every way of being part of a community.”
Yesterday, friends and former colleagues from both sides of the aisle responded to the news that the six-term
Hopkinton Republican has died with their memories of a man who was ever present and always memorable. Kennedy was 80 years old.
Fran Wendleboe, a former state representative and a New Hampton Republican, said she met Stretch when she was campaigning for her seat in the early 1990s. She laughed as she recalled her friend falling asleep during the House session, his wry sense of humor and their faces drawn in caricature in a New Yorker cartoon years ago.
“Stretch was one of a kind,” Wendleboe said. “He was cantankerous but so good-hearted. He seemed very gruff to people, but he really was just a little bear sometimes, a cuddly bear.”
He hated early mornings and sending emails, Wendleboe said, but he loved to fly planes and collect firearms.
And in the State House during the 1990s and early 2000s, Kennedy was a staunch advocate for Second Amendment rights and a champion for gun owners.
“It was rumored he had a tank,” Wendleboe joked. “I’m not sure about that.”
Kennedy got fired up about everything, said Donna Sytek, former speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. But nothing more so than the Second Amendment.
“If the bill had to do with guns, you knew Stretch was going to have something to say about it,” Sytek said.
Sytek, who has also served as chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said Kennedy was also a generous GOP donor. He was often supportive of other candidates in the party, she said – but he also helped fund a State House portrait of Dan Healy, the longest serving state representative in New Hampshire history and a Democrat.
Current Chairman Jennifer Horn released a statement yesterday on Kennedy’s passing, calling him a “tireless advocate” for the party’s work.
“Stretch was a tireless advocate for conservative principles and a fierce defender of our Second Amendment rights,” Horn said. “He was a caring individual who was beloved by Republican activists across New Hampshire because of his colorful and one-of-a-kind personality.”
That personality was Kennedy’s trademark, but it could also get him into trouble.
He spoke his mind on local issues such as Massachusetts’s failure to pay New Hampshire its share of the Merrimack River Valley Flood Compact or foreign policy.
“I’d like to take the dams out and wash the bastards out to sea, but I haven’t figured out how to do that legally,” Kennedy said in spring 2006.
And he didn’t care about being politically correct, like when he drew criticism for calling Osama bin Laden a “psychopathic raghead” in 2002, according to New Hampshire Public Radio archives.
“He was one of a kind,” Sytek said. “And one of him was plenty.”
But he was tall and loud, and he would be heard when he was in the room or on the House floor. And he was Stretch.
“Sometimes I would get a little frustrated at him because of the way he would define an issue, he could have been a little bit more polished,” Wendleboe said. “But that wasn’t Stretch, and everybody loved him.”
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, praised Kennedy’s career in a statement yesterday.
“Stretch and I rarely agreed on issues, but he was a man of principle and a good-natured warrior,” she said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
State Rep. Gary Richardson, a Democrat from Hopkinton, met Kennedy when they ran against each other in the 2000s.
“Stretch was always a gentleman,” Richardson said. “He felt passionately about the issues. We rarely agreed on the issues, but he was always honorable in taking his positions, and he was not shy about expressing opinions.”
Richardson is also the town moderator in Hopkinton, where he said Kennedy was a fixture at town meetings.
“What I would say I learned from him is that it’s important to participate in the process and not be afraid to express your opinions,” Richardson said.
Kennedy’s longtime friend Ford remembered the former state representative as a man who spoke his mind loudly, but also gave quietly. Years ago, he said Kennedy paid for a local amateur boxing club run by Ford to travel to Kansas City and watch one of its members compete in a national championship. He once lent his own bike to a elderly stranger whose dying wish was to ride in a motorcycle sidecar, Ford said, and he was always asking friends to fill seats he paid for at charity dinners.
“It was all quiet, nobody knew,” Ford said.
But Kennedy’s friends and colleagues know they will feel a real void with his death.
“I think he’ll be missed,” Ford said.
“He always had a voice.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)