Friends, family and colleagues of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) gathered at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston on Friday evening to celebrate the life and work of one of the nation’s most renowned legislators.
Kennedy — who died Tuesday evening at the age of 77 after a yearlong fight with brain cancer — was hailed by those who knew him as a master legislator and kind and thoughtful friend.
Kennedy’s Senate colleagues gave particularly touching tributes to their fallen colleague.
“Two weeks ago, as I was coming out of surgery, I got a call from Teddy, his unique voice as loud and booming as ever. Well,’ he roared, Between going through prostate cancer surgery and doing town-hall meetings, you made the right choice!’ And though he was dying, and I was hurting, he had me howling with laughter in the recovery room as he made a few choice comments, I cannot repeat, about catheters,— Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), one of Kennedy’s closest Senate friends, said during the memorial.
Dodd also noted Kennedy’s fiercely Irish approach to life. “Teddy was never maudlin or self-pitying about his illness, but he was always fully aware of what was happening. Every Irishman’s dream, of course, is to attend our own eulogies. That’s why we call the obituary page the Irish sports page. And I know he enjoyed a uniquely Celtic kick out of hearing people who abhorred his politics say incredibly nice things about him,— Dodd said.
On Kennedy’s ability to effectively navigate the Senate and mastermind numerous legislative accomplishments, Dodd ultimately laid his success at the feet of Kennedy’s likability.
“Volumes, of course, will be published by those attempting to unlock the mystery of why Teddy was such an effective legislator. Was it his knowledge of parliamentary procedure? His political instincts? His passionate oratory? His staff? Please let me save the pundits and political scientists some time — and all of you some money — and tell you what Teddy’s secret was: People liked him. Now, he always had a great staff, and great ideas, but that only counts for so much in the United States Senate, if you lack the respect and admiration of your colleagues. And Teddy earned that respect,— Dodd explained.
Dodd, who largely took over the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee during Chairman Kennedy’s absence this year, also touched on the ongoing debate over health care reform. He noted that ensuring health care for all Americans had long been a dream of Kennedy’s.
“We are all so saddened that he did not live to see that won. But in a few short days, we will return to our work in Teddy’s Senate. The blistering days of August will be replaced, I pray, by the cooler days of September. And we will prevail in the way Teddy won so many victories for our country: by listening to each other, by respecting each other and the seriousness of the institution to which we belong, and where Teddy earned an immortal place in American history,— Dodd said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who worked with Kennedy on immigration reform as well as other legislative initiatives, noted that Kennedy “had the Irish talent for storytelling and for friendship an infectious laugh of his that could wake the dead and cheer up the most beleaguered soul. He was good company. Excellent company. I think I’m going to miss him more than I can say. We disagreed on most issues. But I admired his passion for his convictions, his patience with the hard and sometimes dull work of legislating, and his uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged, and his cause advanced by degrees. He was a fierce advocate, and no Senator would oppose him in debate without at least a little trepidation, often more than a little. We all listened to him, of course. He was hard to ignore,— McCain said.
“He was the most reliable, the most prepared, and the most persistent Member of the Senate. He took the long view. He never gave up. And though on most issues I very much wished he would give up, he taught me to be a better Senator,— McCain added.
Sen. John Kerry (D), who now becomes Massachusetts’ senior Senator, noted that even during Kennedy’s battle with cancer, his colleague continued to work on legislative issues and accomplished much.
“He accomplished more in that span than many Senators do in a lifetime: mental health parity, the tobacco bill, a health care bill out of his committee. He spoke at the Democratic Convention, wrote his memoirs, was there for the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, received the Medal of Freedom from the president and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II,— Kerry said.
Kerry also stressed Kennedy’s personal approach to his professional relationships and how he was able to bridge partisan gaps through friendship.
“One of the framed notes in Ted’s Senate office was a thank-you from a colleague for a gift — a special edition of Profiles in Courage.’ I brought it home and re-read it. What an inspiration!’ the note said. Thank you, my friend, for your many courtesies. If the world only knew.’ It was signed by Trent Lott, the Republican Leader of the Senate,— Kerry said.
“When Jesse Helms [R] announced he had to undergo heart-valve surgery, Helms told his constituents back in North Carolina: It’s no piece of cake, but it sure beats listening to Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor.’ So Ted wrote a note to Jesse, saying, I would be happy to send you tapes of my recent Senate speeches, if that will help you to a speedy recovery!’— Kerry added.
Like Dodd, Kerry also used the memorial service to renew his call for universal health care vowing that “we will do it— for Kennedy.
A visibly emotional Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) noted that despite their deep political differences, he and Kennedy had become extremely close over the years, “like two fighting brothers, to be honest with you.— Hatch even penned a song in Kennedy’s honor to pay tribute to his friend and his battle with brain cancer.
Repeatedly referring to Kennedy as “my friend Ted,— Hatch noted that when he came to the Senate, he had originally assumed he’d fight with Kennedy — and even campaigned on that.
“As a Republican coming from Utah, I stated numerous times on the campaign trail that I’d come to Washington to fight Ted Kennedy I didn’t have the slightest idea that I’d have a strong working relationship— and personal friendship, Hatch said, adding that “If you’d told me that he’d become one of my closest personal friends in the world, I would have told you, You need professional help.’—
Hatch spent most of his speech reminiscing about his personal relationship with Kennedy and his family and how they had developed a strong friendship over the years. Recalling a time when Kennedy arranged for himself and Hatch to give a speech to some 200 Mormon missionaries at Faneuil Hall in Boston, Hatch praised the “graciousness of my dear friend Ted Kennedy.—
Noting the tragedies of Kennedy’s life, Hatch argued that it helped him become not only a stronger person, but a better friend. “He became the stronger for it. He and [his wife] Vicki flew to Utah for my mother’s funeral. I didn’t know they were coming it was wonderful, and I’ll never forget it,— Hatch said.
“I miss fighting in public and joking with him in the background. I miss all the things we knew we could do together,— Hatch said.
Vice President Joseph Biden, a former Senator from Delaware who served with Kennedy for more than 30 years, largely directed his comments to Kennedy’s family.
“I want to give thanks. Thanks for your father. Thanks for your husband. Thanks for your uncle. Thanks for your brother [who] ended up playing an incredibly important role in every step of my adult life,— Biden said, adding, “He crept into my heart and before I knew it, he owned a piece of it.—
Biden also praised Kennedy’s influence on his own career as well as all those with whom he came in contact.“His lack of pettiness, forced some of the less generous members of our community to act bigger than they were. People didn’t want to appear small in front of him, even if they were,— Biden said.
“He took on the role of being my older brother I couldn’t understand at first, to tell the truth. I didn’t understand why he was going out of his way for me. For 36 years I had the privilege to every single solitary day to go to work with Senator Ted Kennedy,— Biden said.“Your father was a historic figure. He was a heroic figure beyond that,— he added.
The program for the memorial service featured a quote from William Butler Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,— while the back of the program was inscribed with the quote “There’s a tear in your eye, and I’m wondering why, For it never should be there at all,— from the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.—