"She lived an amazing life," her daughter tells PEOPLE

By Benjamin VanHooseLiz McNeil and Adam Carlson
June 18, 2020 09:24 AM
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Jean Kennedy Smith — the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy and a former U.S. ambassador — died Wednesday night in her New York City apartment, PEOPLE confirms. She was 92.

The cause of death has not been released.

Kym Smith, one of Jean's two daughters, tells PEOPLE "she lived an amazing life."

"She was so generous, and she had a kind heart," with a real sense of humor, Kym says.

She says she saw her mother last week for dinner — "I personally was really lucky to spend so much time with her the last few years" — and that Jean was not alone when she died, though Kym declined to say more, citing family privacy.

Kym says she and Jean "had a special bond. ... She always lit up when she saw me, and I got to spend a lot of time with her."

"I would come up to New York a few times a month and spend time with her and tell her what a great mother she was," Kym says. "I thanked her for adopting me and giving me the best life."

On the Today show on Thursday morning, Jean's niece Maria Shriver called her "an extraordinary woman" who "had a great career on behalf of this country, as ambassador to Ireland promoting peace there." Shriver also noted Jean's work founding the Kennedy Center's Very Special Arts, which provides arts education and cultural access to people with disabilities.

Born in 1928 in Massachusetts, the family's original cradle of power, she graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart and was the common link between three of her brothers' wives, according to The New York Times — including introducing Jacqueline Bouvier to older brother John.

Jean was the second-youngest of her siblings and outlived them all.

"I take solace in the fact that she is joining every other member of her family up in heaven,” Shriver said on Today on Thursday.

Jean Kennedy Smith
Frank O'Brien/The Boston Globe via Getty

In 1993, when Jean was 65, she was appointed ambassador to Ireland during Bill Clinton's presidency. According to the Times, she played a role in the peace talks in Northern Ireland, then plagued by religious violence that killed more than 3,000 people.

She wrote a memoir in 2016 titled The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy, reflecting on her eight siblings and her family's political prowess.

"It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,” Jean wrote, according to the Associated Press. “At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration."

Jean's daughter tells PEOPLE: "She spoke about them [her siblings] all the time and how close they all were."

Jean Kennedy Smith in 2017
Sonia Moskowitz/WireImage

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Jean outlived her husband, Stephen Edward Smith, a one-time White House chief of staff who died in 1990. A spokesperson for then-Sen. Ted Kennedy said at the time of his death that Stephen was a member of the family "from the day he married Jean."

"Steve was like a brother in our family. He was the wisest adviser, the most skillful campaign manager and the best friend that any of us ever had," the rep said at the time. "There wouldn’t have been a Camelot without Steve Smith."

The couple had four children: sons Stephen Jr. and William and daughters Amanda and Kym. (Though Jean's family largely avoided the spotlight cast by their last name, son William was accused and then acquitted of rape in the early '90s in Florida in a much-watched trial.)

Jean is also survived by six grandchildren, according to the Times.