Sanibel resident remembers Senator Ted Kennedy
Over the last days, I have been very contemplative and emotional regarding the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. This is somewhat surprising given that his battle with brain cancer was made known well over a year ago.
I guess I am like many others in that he touched my life so many times and always left such a strong imprint on my memory. Also, he was such a fighter and full of life that you could never count him out. On some level, I believed he might pull off a final miracle and beat cancer.
My first memories of him are in the Senate chamber. When he took the floor everyone returned to the chamber and paid attention, as he commanded through knowledge, preparation and amazing oratory ability that they should vote for the bill. Over the years, I witnessed his arguments many times.
I remember many candidate and issue campaigns where there was much discussion about Senator Kennedy’s negatives, as well as positives. Growing up in the South and Midwest, one heard a lot of comments about the Kennedys, especially Teddy. In fact my first really big campaign was Bumpers vs. Fulbright for U.S. Senate. Fulbright was a huge force in the Senate and foreign affairs, but I was drawn to young Dales’s focus on the domestic issues-children and families. Everyone said Bumpers didn’t have a chance, but I believed and worked my heart out. As a 15-year-old leader of Young Democrats, I was given great responsibility for field operations, organizing/recruiting and even fundraising. Years later, I was able to discuss the campaign with the Senator while at a political session at the Harvard JFK School of Government. We talked of it several times. While the Senate was stunned by Fulbright’s loss, Bumpers became a respected voice and conscience of the Senate. Teddy said that campaign was a great example of what’s possible in politics.
Another special memory was when I was advocating for the clean water coalition and organizing a huge citizen lobby day. I knew Kennedy’s staff was
extremely talented, but what a lesson I got that day. As the Senator brought tears to my eyes in support of the environment, his staff helped us strategically mobilize the hundreds of citizens to the right legislators. The organization was a thing of beauty. I took notes. We won.
But perhaps the most enduring memory of Ted Kennedy has to do with his
advice, kindness and inspiration to the first time candidates I took to DC over the years. His approach was both personal and large, as he sized them up, “It won’t be easy. It’s an uphill battle. If you work hard enough and sincerely believe you can serve the people best, you have a shot.” Of course, this was followed by a bear hug for those who had impressed him.
The times that stand out most from those visits were outside the Capitol. The most poignant for me was when my candidate from Oregon was in DC. As a first time candidate, it is intimidating for anyone. My candidate was a woman rancher, scientist and remarkable force of nature, but not real comfortable in fancy clothes with stuffed shirts. At the event that the Democratic Party hosted for her, she was so nervous and uncomfortable. I will always remember when she and Teddy were at the piano singing “Danny Boy” with tears streaming down their smiling faces.
Politics may make strange bedfellows; but more often, politics, when noble, creates the sweetest friendships and memories.