A future historian of twentieth-century Mormonism may well conclude that the agent of the most significant change in the post–World War II period was former Chicago banker and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury David M. Kennedy rather than one of the Church presidents. More than any other leader, Kennedy showed that, through quiet and patient diplomacy at the highest governmental levels, the Church could gain access to nations throughout the world, including such diverse governments as Soviet-bloc Poland and those with strong state religious traditions such as Greece and Portugal.
In retrospect, David Kennedy's origins seem quite improbable for an international banker and treasury secretary. A native of the small northeastern Utah farming town of Randolph, Kennedy grew up there and in Riverdale and Ogden. He attended Weber College for a time, married, and served as a missionary in Great Britain before he and his wife, Lenora Bingham Kennedy, moved to Washington, D.C. It was that move and the events following it that led Kennedy on the path that would place him in the highest ranks of power and prestige in the United States and the world. He worked for the Federal Reserve Board while completing a law degree at George Washington and later a graduate degree in banking at Rutgers. At the Federal Reserve he became closely associated with a number of influential figures including Marriner Eccles and the group that revolutionized the regulation of the American banking system. In 1946 he moved to Chicago to accept a position at Continental Illinois Bank, where he eventually became president and chairman of the board. He remained there until he accepted the treasury post in the first Nixon administration in 1969, subsequently serving as ambassador at large and ambassador to NATO before his retirement in 1973.