Peter Maximus Kennedy

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PETER MAXIMUS KENNEDY A Wall Street executive whose indomitable will led his firm through some of Wall Street's darkest days and whose investment acumen enabled him to risk everything he owned at the right times, died February 11, 2009 in the Yale/New Haven Hospital. Formerly of Rye, New York, he was 86 and lived in Big Horn, Wyoming. His died of complications of a heart attack, according to his son, Peter M. Kennedy III. In 1969, when Wall Street was reeling, Mr. Kennedy became Chairman and CEO of the old line firm of Dominick & Dominick, founded in 1870 and holding the oldest membership the New York Stock Exchange. As firms like Dupont and Goodbody were forced to close their doors, he rapidly shrunk the Dominick franchise. Mr. Kennedy's decisiveness extended even to installation of low watt light bulbs at the firm and a ban on taxicab usage, steps that proved crucial when the firm's available capital dipped to $100. Dominick was the only one of the 14 "sub major bracket" underwriters from that era to survive. In 1973, Dominick's existence was threatened again by the desire of its major investor to leave Wall Street's troubles behind. To save the firm, with the full support of his wife Marie Lyons Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy sold virtually all of their assets, including their home, to purchase control. The family moved in with friends. In 1976 Mr. Kennedy once again risked everything he owned. He pledged all of his assets to purchase the high-end furniture maker Drexel Heritage Furnishings for $67 million, employing 100 per cent leverage. The Drexel deal began the modern leveraged buyout era. Other acquisitions followed, and in the 1980s, culminating with the 1986 sale of Drexel to Masco, he disposed of his acquired companies. From that point on, having twice risked everything, he was content to become a conservative investor. Mr. Kennedy formed family-held Eighteen Seventy Corporation in the 1980s. The firm controls Ferguson Copeland and Guy Chaddock, makers of fine furniture in North Carolina; GI Ranch Corporation, a half-million acre cattle ranch in Oregon; and Dominick Company AG, a private bank in Zurich, Switzerland. A Wyoming trust holds his interest in Dominick & Dominick, which continues today as a full service securities firm based in New York and for which he had a special attachment until his death. An indefatigable worker who never left home without his traveling Bloomberg, Mr. Kennedy was active in the markets until virtually the day of his death. He was also a devotee of puzzles, and would complete the Sunday New York Times crossword using only the Across or Down clues. Mr. Kennedy was born in Derby, Connecticut on July 28, 1922. He graduated from Yale in 1944 with a degree in mathematics after garnering many academic honors, including membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He joined the Army Air Force, which assigned him to study at the University of Chicago and Harvard, and then to a base in Great Falls, Montana, where he helped develop the radar system for the B-29 bomber wings. After the service he worked for his father in a mortgage banking business while earning his law degree at night at U.Conn. In 1948, following the death of his father, he worked for Shell Oil, and four years later joined Dominick & Dominick as a research analyst. He rose to become a partner and head of investment banking, working with established clients of the firm such as Dillingham Corp. and Flying Tigers, and new American business icons such as Kirk Kekorian, Wm. Zeckendorf and Jimmy Ling. He served on the boards of MGM, MGM Grand Hotel, Bulova Watch, Western Airlines, Unum (life insurance), Tiger International and Harding Glass. He is survived by three sons, Peter (Carroll) of Rye, New York, Paul of Brooklyn, New York, John of Bend, Oregon; nine grandchildren, Sarah (Luke) Dolce of Harrison, New York; Burke, Matthew, Catherine, James, Mary of Rye, New York; Paul of Austin, Texas; Nicholas of Brooklyn; and Hilary of Colorado Springs, Colorado; two great-grandchildren, Isabelle and E. Max Dolce of Harrison, New York; a brother John, of Orange, Connecticut; a sister, Helen, of Hamden, Connecticut; and brother, William, of San Diego, California Mr. Kennedy was a private and unpretentious gentleman, who flew economy and cooked his own hamburgers for dinner after Marie, his wife of 58 years, died in 2004. He preferred a simple life in Wyoming (with his Bloomberg) to lunches at The Four Seasons. He was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily. Through the Marie Kennedy Foundation established by him, Mr. Kennedy was a generous donor to Catholic and educational causes, and was a longtime board member of the Yale Eye Institute. A wake will be held at the Wm. Graham Funeral Home, Boston Post Road, Rye, NY 10580 (Ph.: 914-967-0129) from 4-7.30 PM on February 15, and a Mass of Christian Burial will take place at Resurrection Church, Boston Post Road, Rye, NY at 10 AM on February 16. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Yale Eye Institute.
Published in GreenwichTime on Feb. 13, 2009
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