WATERTOWN, NY — John A. Kennedy, Jr., longtime northern New York businessman who served two terms in two different decades as president of the New York State Society of Opticians, has died at the age of 77.
Mr. Kennedy passed away peacefully Monday, April 17, at the West Haven (CT) VA Medical Center, where he had recently been admitted for hospice care, according to his wife, Pamela, who was at his bedside. The cause of death was complications from myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disease that had been diagnosed earlier this month following a decline in his general health.
Known widely in Watertown and surrounding communities of the north country, Mr. Kennedy was a prominent figure in his profession. He served two stints as president of the statewide society of opticians, from 1984 to 1987 and again from 2005 to 2007, in a career that spanned more than 50 years. He was cited with many honors over the years, including the society’s Lifetime Achievement and Membership awards. He also advised licensing authorities on exams and other requirements for certification in ophthalmic dispensing. His independently owned and operated business, J Opticians, had stores in both Watertown and Ogdensburg.
His personal interests centered largely around his love of golf and particularly the Ives Hill Country Club in Watertown, where he once served as club president. Growing up, Mr. Kennedy lived in a house adjacent to the course in a family that viewed the fairways as an extension of their backyard. Mr. Kennedy also enjoyed fishing, cultivating that interest as a young boy over summers with his maternal grandparents on Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, NY.
Most of all, he was known by his family, friends, professional colleagues and clients alike for his outgoing personality and precipitous laugh, which highlighted every personal interaction, whether he was among family and friends or just adjusting someone’s glasses in his store. He was a familiar and welcome presence wherever he went in Watertown, the hometown that his parents adopted and where he and his wife returned to build their own life together and raise three children.
His family of two daughters and a son became the center of his world in the prime of his life with their friends pulled into the orbit of a dad who was always a “source of fun,” ready to dispense “outrageous proportions of ice cream,” according to one close friend, and look the other way to allow television movie viewing that might not otherwise pass muster with Mom. And so it continued a generation later with his three grandchildren, this time one girl and two boys, who enjoyed the doting attention of their grandfather in his later years.
Dedicated also to his country, Mr. Kennedy was a third-generation veteran of the U.S. Army, following his grandfather, Leon R. Matson, and father, John A. Kennedy Sr. He performed his service during the Vietnam conflict and was stationed at Cam Ranh Bay as part of the 32nd Medical Depot. His work as an optician began in earnest there, dispensing glasses to the troops as part of his duties.
Mr. Kennedy was born July 28, 1945, in Corning, NY, to Muriel Matson and John A. Kennedy Sr., while his father was overseas during World War II. The family would settle a few years later in Watertown, where his father, an ophthalmologist, built a successful medical and surgical practice. His father’s specialty inspired the eldest son of five children to become an optician and eventually fulfill the eyeglass and contact lens needs of his father’s patients right in the office. Mr. Kennedy would go on to incorporate his own business, based on Public Square in the city’s center, which expanded to include clothing and other eye-wear accessories. His mother, Muriel, a local broadcaster and public relations specialist, provided the talent for J Opticians television advertisements. Both parents predeceased Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy met his future wife, Pamela Auletta, during training in their respective trades, he in ophthalmic dispensing and she as a dental hygienist, at Erie County Technical Institute in Buffalo, NY. The couple were married Aug. 16, 1969, in Hamden, CT, after his discharge from the Army. They first moved to Big Rapids, Mich., where Mr. Kennedy earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing at Ferris State University, and later to Rochester, NY, where they started their careers and their family. They moved to Watertown in 1976.
Mr. Kennedy was a 1963 graduate of Watertown High School and was a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic parish in Watertown, both growing up and later upon his return as an adult.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Kennedy is survived by the couple’s three children, Carrie M. Kennedy of Hoboken, NJ; Leigh A. Kennedy and spouse, Simon Nagel IV, of Philadelphia, PA; John A. Kennedy III, and spouse, JoLynn, of Madison, CT; three grandchildren, Margaret Muriel Kennedy, Graeme McCabe Kennedy and Simon Nagel V; along with several nieces and nephews. He is also survived by three brothers, Thomas L. Kennedy and spouse, Kathleen, of Danville, PA; James M. Kennedy and spouse, Cindy, of Pleasantville, NY; and Timothy G. Kennedy and spouse, Cynthia, of Escondido, CA; and a sister, Mary Kennedy Zierke and spouse, William, of State College, PA. Mr. Kennedy’s two brothers-in-law, Frederick J. Auletta and spouse, Joyce, of Manchester, VT, and Paul J. Auletta and spouse, Mary Pat, of East Syracuse, NY, also survive.
Arrangements are entrusted with the Cummings Funeral Service, Inc. with calling hours Friday, May 5, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Watertown location, 214 Sterling Street. A funeral mass will be held Saturday, May 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Church, 123 South Massey St.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Kennedy’s name may be made to St. Patrick’s or to the VA Connecticut Fisher House, 950 Campbell Ave., West Haven, CT 06516, Mail Code 135F.
Online condolences to his family may be posted at www.cummingsfuneral.com.