Senior editor Dan Mac Alpine collects Kennedy anecdotes and reflects on conflicted emotions around the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in this Footnotes column.
The stories came in during the course of the week. Anecdotes and memories. Almost always ending in, “You know, I couldn’t believe he took the time to talk to me.”
A colleague recalled how she needed a quote from Kennedy’s staff on an issue. She left a message and her number. Later in the evening her phone rang. “Senator Kennedy on the line for you.”
“I was like, yeah right. Like he’d call me. But then it was his voice on the phone.”
The story conjured up my own forgotten brush with Kennedy.
I must have been working as the Melrose Free Press editor at the time. I think I was working on a story about how No Child Left Behind would affect local schools and what the funding situation was. I left a message with his staff, never expecting a call back. Then around 8 or 9 p.m., my desk phone rang. “Senator Kennedy on the line for you.”
One Ipswich woman called and told of how Kennedy had found a job for her developmentally challenged son. She had a framed letter signed by the senator himself.
A Republican friend whispered into the phone, “I always voted for him — but don’t tell anyone.”
Bill Wasserman, Ipswich resident and former owner and publisher of the North Shore Weeklies, which included the Chronicle, remembers missing an early-morning appointment with Kennedy who was on the campaign trail. Wasserman was coming off a late-night deadline and when he did finally catch up with Kennedy, he refused an interview.
In the years that followed, Wasserman said he grew to have tremendous admiration for “Ted.”
“He became my number one public figure. But I never saw him without imagining that he might turn sharply, point an accusatory finger, and boom, ‘You didn’t show, and I remember!’” Wasserman said.
Later, when he went to work in D.C. for newly elected 6th District Congressman Michael Harrington, Wasserman quickly learned Kennedy’s office was the place to go for help.
“They understood the issues and the people. It spoke volumes about Ted that he built and kept such a staff,” said Wasserman.
I must admit to mixed emotions regarding the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. I fell victim to his dual caricatures. The jowly, stammering liberal buffoon. The drinker. The womanizer. The indelible, tragic stain of Chappaquiddick. Say what you will, Mary Jo Kopechne never had the second chances Ted Kennedy had.
“I loved Jack and Robert,” said one senior colleague, “but I couldn’t support someone who went scuba diving without a tank.”
Then there was the attacking liberal lion, eloquent, tireless and committed to giving voice and power to those who had neither. He of the 1980 presidential concession speech, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”
“Where was this guy the rest of the campaign?” I remember thinking at the time.
As I watched the wake, the funeral service and the burial this weekend a deepening sense of loss and awakening of human spirit rose within me.
Who could ever forget Ted Kennedy Jr.’s remembrance of his father and their struggle, together, up that icy hill to go sledding with Teddy on his new artificial leg?
If my children have one such memory of me as a father at my funeral I will have considered my life well lived.
Between the liberal buffoon and liberal lion was the real man. Flawed, deeply so. Deeply pained, having lost three older brothers to war or assassins’ bullets and an older sister to a plane crash. It’s easy to forget the personal toll such losses must have had on the man. Think of the toll they took on the nation.
A clip from a CNN documentary on Sen. Edward Kennedy showed Ted and Bobby meeting on a street. Bobby is walking on the D.C. sidewalk and he sees his brother get out of the car. Bobby fairly skips a few steps and trots to embrace his brother. The body language wasn’t faked and the love it displayed was real.
And I felt the loss of Bobby all over again and I wondered how many times a week, a day, Teddy felt that loss unimaginably more than I at that moment.
Yet, Ted Kennedy persevered. He struggled. He fell farther than any of us could ever know. And he resurrected himself through faith and will and became a man whom presidents and ex-presidents, colleagues from all political stripes and, most importantly, sons could praise.
Dan Mac Alpine is senior editor of the Ipswich Chronicle.