Memories of Senator Ted Kennedy
August 26, 2009
Sen. Edward Kennedy died on Tuesday. So many things come to mind. I grew up in the era of the Kennedys. I remember his election and his brothers’ assassinations. I remember the eulogy he gave at his brother Bobby’s funeral. I remember his work in the Senate. He wasn’t always as honored as he was in recent years. He may have come to the Senate on family coattails, but he didn’t linger there. Ted Kennedy built his reputation over the course of 47 years, bill by bill, vote by vote.
I met him once, briefly. When I worked for Hunger Action Coalition in the 1980s, his office called our office, seeking our help in arranging a public hearing on hunger in Pittsburgh. America was in a recession. The steel industry had collapsed under the weight of incompetent management. People who had held good, steady jobs for decades were suddenly on welfare.
He was exceedingly kind, courteous, and considerate of every person whom he met. He listened to everything that everyone had to say. It was a long day and he was there for every minute of it. I still have the note that he sent to me (and to each of us) thanking us for our help in arranging the hearing. Afterward, his office asked for our opinions on how to improve federal food assistance programs.
A few years later, I was in Washington on business and had some time to kill. So I visited the Senate gallery to watch the action. As I entered the balcony, I could hear that voice, urging his colleagues to pass a bill improving workplace safety regulations. Now that legislation wouldn’t have mattered in his life, or his family’s. But it mattered to your life and mine. And we are safer because of Ted Kennedy.
Yes, there was Chappaquiddick. And he was wrong. But that doesn’t diminish the good that he did. He spent the rest of his life doing good. He was wealthy enough to spend his life sitting on a beach somewhere. Yet he never tired. He never wavered. He never gave up. He never stopped working to improve the lives of other people.
Hunger. Homelessness. Poverty. Child care. Health care.
Workplace safety. Jobs. Education. Financial security.
Political, social, and economic justice.
Whether you liked him or not, whether you agreed with his politics or not, I think you have to give him that.
America deserves more Ted Kennedys.
And I hope we can all be more like him.
May he rest in peace.
UPDATE April 11, 2019: After his death, Senator Kennedy’s family founded the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, in Boston. According to its website, The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is dedicated to educating the public about the important role of the Senate in our government, encouraging participatory democracy, invigorating civil discourse, and inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the civic life of their communities.
The Institute opened to the public on March 31, 2015.
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