First Lady of Coral Ridge, Anne Kennedy Remembered

Anne Lewis Kennedy, known to most as the “First Lady” of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, passed away on May 16 at the age of 91. A faithful servant of the Lord, Anne labored alongside her husband, Dr. D. James Kennedy, who was senior pastor at Coral Ridge for more than 48 years until he went to be with the Lord in 2007. His wife constantly encouraged him, and by the grace of God, Coral Ridge produced Evangelism Explosion, a worldwide lay-witnessing program; Knox Theological Seminary; Westminster Academy; and D. James Kennedy Ministries, a worldwide broadcast ministry (formerly Coral Ridge Ministries) that still proclaims the word.

Anne faithfully sang in the chancel choir, played in several handbell choirs, participated on various committees, and took part in the church’s weekly lay evangelism training ministry. Her passion was to share the good news of Jesus Christ – that heaven is a free gift, not earned by our own good works, but by trusting in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins offered to us through His grace. She was named Homemaker of the Year in 2004 by Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.

My wife, Kirsti, who has sung in the church choir for years, where Mrs. Kennedy also sung, interviewed Anne Kennedy in 2002 and learned a great deal about her background.

Anne Lewis was born in North Carolina and grew up in Lakeland, Florida. Her father was a Presbyterian elder. When she was about 20 and living in the Tampa area, she met a young man who was running an Arthur Murray Dance Studio, D. James Kennedy. She didn’t know it until later, but within minutes of meeting, Jim Kennedy went into the back office and told an employee, “I just met the woman I’m going to marry.”

After Dr. Kennedy got saved, having heard a gospel presentation on the radio and then reading The Greatest Story Ever Told, he asked Anne if she knew the Lord. She said about her relationship with Jesus at that time: “I knew all about Him but didn’t really know Him. That night I surrendered, and Jim led me in prayer as I put my trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation.”

Later, Evangelism Explosion, the lay witness program Dr. Kennedy developed, became very close to Anne Kennedy’s heart. She was his first trainee. She noted, “When you are committed to E.E. and have a regular and systematic time to share, it keeps you faithful and obedient and also more prone to take opportunities to share the Gospel in your everyday life.”

Born on July 2, 1925 in Statesville, NC, her family moved to Lakeland, Florida shortly thereafter. Anne graduated from Lakeland High School in 1942. She studied at Florida State University and the University of California at Los Angeles, before completing her studies at Birmingham Southern College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. During her tenure at Birmingham Southern, Anne was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, where she served as vice-president. She also sang in the college choir, and participated in numerous special choral groups. In addition, Anne was a member of the MU Alpha music fraternity, where she served as president. Following graduation, she taught a variety of music courses at Birmingham Southern and assisted the director of music at the college.

After Mrs. Kennedy’s passing, Dr. John Sorensen, who serves as the president of Evangelism Explosion, noted: “It has been a true honor and distinct pleasure to know this gentle woman of deep and sincere faith. She was a constant source of encouragement and support to both my wife Ann and me. All of us at Evangelism Explosion extend our deepest condolences to her daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Chip Cassidy, in their loss.”

Rob Pacienza, who is now the lead pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, wrote: “As the First Lady of Coral Ridge, Anne partnered with her husband to reach this community, the nation, and our world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So many of the blessings that we experience presently at Coral Ridge are the fruit of the selfless service of Anne Kennedy. Although we mourn her passing, we rejoice that she is at home with her Savior and experiencing the glory of Heaven.”

We have lost a dear sister in Christ. And we will miss her dearly. But as their daughter Jennifer noted, “I’m so glad she’s now reunited with dad.” How true it is what Paul wrote: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

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