WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday nominated Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of the late senator Edward M. Kennedy, to be US ambassador to Austria.
Kennedy, 67, is a senior counsel at the international law firm Greenberg Traurig and a longtime friend of Biden. If confirmed by the Senate, she would extend the Kennedy family’s diplomatic tradition, which began with its patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who served as ambassador to the United Kingdom.
It became clear Kennedy was under consideration for the post after the Austria Press Agency reported last week that she had received the approval of the office of Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen. At the time, the nation’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, called the choice an “honor” for Austria, according to the Associated Press.
Kennedy said she was honored to be nominated.
“My parents and grandparents taught us through the example of their own lives how important it is to serve and give back. And my late husband, and his extended family, embodied the noblest qualities of service to country,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I am humbled by the confidence the president has placed in me, and if confirmed, I look forward to being able to serve my country as ambassador to Austria.”
Several friends and co-workers said Kennedy had traits that would make her an excellent ambassador.
“The combination of her intelligence and her temperament and her worldview make her very well-suited for a diplomatic role,” said Christine Heenan, a senior partner at the Boston biotech Flagship Pioneering. “She’s a homework person — she really likes to study and prepare — but she’s also one of those people who’s quite facile at being extemporaneous and dealing with curveballs.”
Bob Sherman, a senior counsel at Greenberg Traurig who has worked closely with Kennedy, described her as a “top-notch corporate lawyer” with great judgment. Kennedy’s connection with Biden, who has said she is like a sister to him, also will help her in Vienna, said Sherman, who served as US ambassador to Portugal from 2014 to 2017.
“It matters a lot to the country where you’re being sent that you’re perceived to have a strong relationship with the president and she has a strong relationship with President Biden,” he said.
Biden was close to Edward Kennedy, with whom he served in the Senate for 36 years, and spoke at his 2009 memorial service. Biden credited his initial election to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972 to a last-minute campaign appearance by Kennedy. A few weeks later, after an auto accident killed Biden’s wife and young daughter, Kennedy convinced him not to give up his Senate seat and became like “an older brother” to him in Washington.
Victoria “Vicki” Reggie was raised in Crowley, La., in a family that was influential in Democratic politics and had a connection to the Kennedys. Her father, Edmund Reggie, was a city judge credited with delivering the state’s delegation to John F. Kennedy at the Democratic convention when he sought the vice presidential nomination in 1956, leading to a bond between the two families.
After graduating from Tulane Law School she worked as an attorney in Chicago and then Washington, D.C., where she met Kennedy. They were married in 1992, the second marriage for both of them.
Vicki Kennedy developed a warm relationship with Biden and she endorsed him for president just before the Massachusetts Democratic primary in March 2020.
After Biden’s son Beau died in 2015, Kennedy wrote to Biden and included a letter that Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. had written to a friend about losing his son during World War II. Its message: To grieve a lost loved one, devote your life to the pursuits that would have mattered most to that person.
Biden told the Globe in 2017 it was one of the most treasured condolences he received after losing his son and he thought of Kennedy “like a sister.”
“I think that Vicki’s advice to me when she sent that letter is the explanation for why she’s doing what she’s doing,” Biden said. “There is solace and strength and a sense of peace that comes with continuing to do what Teddy would be doing today.”
After her husband’s death, Kennedy focused on shaping the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, a Boston civic education organization that houses a full-scale replica of the US Senate. In 2015, Kennedy returned to her legal career after a 20-year hiatus, working in the corporate practice group of Greenberg Traurig and splitting time between its Boston and Washington offices.
She has dedicated herself to civic engagement alongside her work as a lawyer, serving on the boards of charities as well as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Barack Obama nominated her to serve on the board of governors for the US Postal Service but she never received a confirmation vote amid a broader dispute in the Senate over the makeup of the board.
“She is a really special woman who cares deeply about the world around us and how we engage with one another,” said Kennedy Center president Deborah F. Rutter. “She doesn’t have Kennedy blood, as it were, but she certainly carries that Kennedy ideal of service for her country and for her others.”
On Wednesday, the White House also announced Biden nominated David Cohen, a Comcast executive, to be ambassador to Canada, and Jamie Harpootlian, a South Carolina lawyer, to be ambassador to Slovenia.
Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that John F. Kennedy sought the vice presidential nomination in 1956.