Kenedy saga has unusual tie to W.R. Grace & Co.

Marilyn Tennissen Apr. 22, 2010, 6:47am

J. Peter Grace

In 1948, the sole heir of the vast fortune of the Kenedy family of South Texas fame was Sarita Kenedy East. Before long the rancher's daughter would find her life intertwined with a man whose company later became synonymous with asbestos litigation.

That year East met Christopher Gregory, a Trappist monk who had taken the name Brother Leo and was on a fund-raising trip through South Texas. Over the next few years Brother Leo became advisor and traveling companion to the childless widow.

After a missionary trip to Chile in 1959, Brother Leo introduced East to J. Peter Grace Jr., chairman of the board of W. R. Grace & Co., in New York.

Decades later, W.R. Grace & Co. would be the focus of the legal world when it was sued more than 250,000 times in the 1990s. The plaintiffs alleged they suffered from a number of diseases after being exposed to asbestos in Grace's products. After the asbestos litigation took a devastating toll on the company, W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.

Most recently, W.R. Grace & Co. made headlines again in May 2009 when the company was acquitted of knowingly harming the people of Libby, Mont. The residents had claimed the company concealed the dangers of its asbestos mining operations in the area.

Back in January 1960, Peter Grace, East and Brother Leo established the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation in January 1960, with East as sole member.

East also wrote another will leaving the bulk of her estate to the foundation. Over the next few months she wrote a series of codicils to her will that gave more and more control of the foundation to Brother Leo and Grace.

Just before her death in Feb. 1961, East named Brother Leo sole member of the foundation.

Soon after her death, a group of relatives and the Diocese of Corpus Christi filed a lawsuit disputing Brother Leo's control of the foundation, charging that Leo and Grace exerted undue influence over East while she was disoriented by medication.

Other relatives also contested her 1960 will and wished to reinstate her 1948 will dividing the estate among various beneficiaries. Over the course of the battle more than 200 people claimed to be legitimate heirs.

Grace and the New York group relinquished control of the foundation after a 1964 settlement agreement, over Brother Leo's objections.

The bulk of the funds, approximately $100 million, went to the control of the South Texans, but Grace received oil royalties (not to exceed $14.4 million) from the estate.

Through a series of court battles over the years the 1960 will was upheld over the 1948 will, and the assets of the foundation and most of the Kenedy estate remained intact.

On April 16, the Texas Supreme Court shot down a woman's claim that she was the illegitimate daughter of Sarita's brother, John G. Kenedy Jr.

Source: The Handbook of Texas Online

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