Head Of JFK Library Foundation Resigns

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The controversial head of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has resigned.

CEO Heather Campion, who had been in the job for almost two years, spoke briefly to staff Wednesday and notified the foundation's board.

Heather Campion (Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation)
Heather Campion (Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation)

"We have made great strides, and succeeded in the hard work of beginning this change, setting a new direction to a dynamic future. Therefore, I will be stepping down," Campion wrote in a letter to board members.

The foundation said Campion will become a consultant at Harvard's Institute of Politics, where she'll focus on women's leadership.

Her departure comes after months of turmoil at the library and the foundation, including the resignation in September of the library's widely respected director, Tom Putnam.

The turmoil has been demoralizing inside the library and for supporters outside.

"It’s been very difficult, very difficult," said Dan Fenn, who was a special assistant to President Kennedy and the library’s founding director.

But Fenn says he’s optimistic about the library’s future, in part because he’s been told Putnam will be working at the federal level for the presidential library system. "So we haven’t totally, the Kennedy Library hasn’t totally lost him," Fenn said.

"It was clear to those of us watching from the outside that there had been a lot of tension, unprecedented tension," said Tim Naftali, a former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. "With the resignation of Ms. Campion, it looks to me as if the library has turned a corner and that period of tension may be over, and for that we should all be pleased."

The foundation had hired an independent firm to interview employees about Campion's leadership and the direction of the library. The results of that review were delivered to the board but have not been made public.

The foundation says the review was not linked to Campion's resignation. In a statement about the review, board Chairman Kenneth Feinberg said: "The Hay Group was retained to review, analyze and make recommendations concerning Foundation operating procedures as they impact the Library itself and the Foundation."

Foundation leaders were not available for comment about the review or about Campion's resignation.

In a separate statement about Campion's tenure, Feinberg said: "Heather's dedication to this institution has never wavered. We thank her for the incredible support she provided during this period of transformation and change. It has not been an easy task."

Campion listed the creation of an international section on the library website, an iPad app for kids and the celebration of President Kennedy's legacy with leaders in Japan among her accomplishments.

A statement from the foundation said its board "will appoint an interim leadership team while it conducts a national search" for her replacement.

The recent departures mean the library has lost a lot of institutional knowledge and there’s concern that morale is low. Researchers who rely the library expect this will be a minor setback.

“I think it will take some time, but the record of the library over decades is simply outstanding, and it’s a very strong and superb institution,” said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a history professor at the University of New Hampshire. “The tide has washed up over Dorchester Bay a little bit but it’s going to recede and I’m sure the place will be fine in the long term.”

Fenn, the library's founding director, says it has always attracted a passionate group of employees.

“We put not just our time and brains into it, but we put our hearts into it because we really believed in what the Kennedy library could do and mean to inspire future generations to spend some of their lives in the public service, which was the driving force in President Kennedy’s life.”

Some employees and library patrons worried that the foundation during Campion's tenure, and perhaps at the direction of the board, was encroaching on public access to documents.

Naftali, from the Nixon library, says the foundation board must be committed to transparency and a full accounting of the president’s history.

“President Kennedy is best served when his entire story is told,” he said. “Some of it may not be as positive as his greatest supporters would like. But when the entire story is told, warts and all, the picture is still important, historic and positive for the country.”

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, parts of the original version of this story were lost during a subsequent update. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on December 02, 2015.

This segment aired on December 3, 2015.


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Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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