Point Lookout resident Bernard D. Kennedy, co-chairman of the King Kullen grocery stores chain and former Long Beach Medical Center board chairman who led the fight to reopen the facility after Hurricane Sandy, died on Feb. 17. He was 92.
Born in Syracuse in 1925, Kennedy was the son of J. Donald Kennedy and Gertrude Cullen Kennedy. He was raised in St. Albans and Hollis, Queens, and graduated from Chaminade High School, a Catholic boys’ high school in Mineola in 1943, according to Newsday.
Kennedy served in the Navy as a gunner during World War II and returned to New York after he was discharged in 1946, according to the paper. He married Dorothy Bloodgood in 1949, and they had five children. He attended St. John’s University and graduated in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and later earned a degree from St. John’s law school.
Kennedy began his King Kullen career in 1949 and worked his way to becoming president, a position he held from 1984 to 1998, and was co-chairman of the board until his death. King Kullen was founded in 1930 by Michael Cullen, Kennedy’s relative, and now has 32 stores on Long Island.
When a new King Kullen supermarket opened in Island Park in December 2012, many said the store would serve a region that was among the hardest hit by Sandy. The extent to which residents suffered was not lost on the Cullen and Kennedy families who own the Long Island supermarket chain, the Herald reported in 2012. Both families have members who reside in Point Lookout and Long Beach, with roots that go back seven decades.
“My father, Bernard, and my mother, Dorothy, have lived here since 1950,” King Kullen Co-President Don Kennedy told the Herald in 2012.
His father served as co-chairman of the 82-year-old supermarket company with Ron Conklin.
“The Kennedys and Cullens have always played active roles in the community,” Don Kennedy said in 2012. “For example, my father and Ron serve on the Board of Trustees of Long Beach Medical Center, where my father is president of the board. After the storm hit, King Kullen provided the region with much-needed resources.”
Kennedy was active in the community and dedicated his time to several organizations in addition to the medical center, including the Nature Conservancy and the St. John’s University President’s Council.
A leader in the community
Many said that it was his role as president, and later chairman, of Long Beach Medical Center’s Board of Directors that made him a well-known leader in the community.
“Working with Bernie was a pleasure,” said former LBMC board member Jim Portnoff, 60, adding that Kennedy sat on the board for at least 25 years and was a mentor to other trustees and hospital administrators. “I worked with Bernie as president of the board when he was the chairman, and it was a terrific experience and I learned a lot from him. He was a very bright guy, very smart and down to earth.”
Former board member Ray Ellmer said that Kennedy and the late Al Osterland, a former board chairman, were instrumental in establishing a dialysis center at the hospital in 2010.
“That was when Long Beach Medical Center wasn’t in the best financial shape, and that was mostly from their own private funding,” Ellmer said. “Throughout their career, as far as being chairman of the board and president, both of them gave personally thousands of dollars of their own funds.”
After Sandy, the storm-damaged hospital made all the necessary repairs to allow two wings, including the emergency department, to reopen, hospital officials said at the time.
The state Department of Health, however, said LBMC was struggling financially, and former state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said that unless it submitted a “viable financial plan,” he would not allow the facility to reopen.
Portnoff and other former board members said that Kennedy led the fight against the state to reopen the hospital.
“He fought to save the hospital from being shut down,” said former Trustee Michael Kerr. “Unfortunately, the state had other ideas.”
Ellmer said that Kennedy reached out to state officials, and the board took out advertisements in Newsday and the Herald criticizing the Health Department. Despite coming up with a financial plan that Ellmer said was viable, Shah called for LBMC to merge with another hospital. In 2014, South Nassau Communities Hospital acquired the facility in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for $11.7 million, giving South Nassau access to $154 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds — originally earmarked for LBMC — to expand its Oceanside campus and build a medical pavilion in Long Beach.
Colleagues said that Kennedy was disappointed that the state would not allow the facility to reopen.
“We tried to have the hospital reopened and met with the New York state authorities, and Bernie led the charge,” Portnoff said. “He was stunned that the State of New York took the attitude that Long Beach did not need a hospital. What [the state] did not take into consideration was that...in the summer the population swells, and getting to South Nassau can be a long process.”
Kennedy’s hobbies included fishing off the jetties in Point Lookout, writing operas and golfing, Newsday said. He died in his Point Lookout home surrounded by family.
“I think the most succinct way to describe my father would be to say that he lived a faithful and a faith-filled life,” said Bernard P. Kennedy, who is secretary and general counsel of Bethpage-based King Kullen.
He is survived by Dorothy; his children, Bernard P. Kennedy, J. Donald Kennedy, Maura LaBella, Terence Kennedy and Dr. Eugene Kennedy; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A funeral was set to be held on Thursday at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Point Lookout at 10:30 a.m.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Al Osterland's name. We regret the error.