Teddy Kennedy, the senior Senator from my home state, died yesterday. When I woke up, turned on the TV and saw his face filling the screen, I knew, without hearing any voiceover, that he was gone. Thousands of words are being spoken and written about his life—the tragedies, the scandals, the accomplishments. He truly was a giant figure in the national and world arena. But for those of us in Massachusetts, the relationship with him, and all the Kennedys, has been particularly intense. I am 60 now but I still remember being a child in Catholic school in Boston, lovingly assembling scrapbooks filled with pictures and stories about Jack and Jackie and Bobby and Teddy. When JFK was assassinated I draped my room in black crepe paper for a year. I worked for Bobby during his presidential campaign and I was up late watching the returns from the California primary the night he was shot in Los Angeles. And I remember Teddy’s first run for the Senate and all his other campaigns and controversies.
But it wasn’t just that he was famous. In Boston we all knew his reputation: "If you want anything done, call Teddy.” Last year one of my colleagues at work lost her son, who was a soldier in Iraq. My friend contacted Teddy’s office to see if he could help get her brother, also serving in Iraq, to Boston in time to attend the funeral. Teddy called her back personally to tell her how sorry he was to hear about her son and he arranged to have her brother home on two weeks’ leave for the burial. This is the kind of response we came to take for granted, and we believed Ted’s compassion was genuine, partly because we all knew how familiar he was with sudden death.
So for me his death feels personal. So much of our Massachusetts history has been caught up with this man and his family. I can see myself watching the three brothers march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, where I grew up, or hearing Ted for the last time in person when he was granted an honorary degree in 2008 from Harvard. At the ceremony, he left his cane behind as he went up to the podium and gave a rousing speech, rallying us to continue to fight for his causes. Of course, he had his own personal demons and complicated life story. Certainly everyone didn’t love or respect him. But he was undeniably a presence and he really did his job. Someone on the radio today said that he had spoken to Ted Kennedy recently and asked how he was feeling. Ted responded, “Every day’s a gift.” For a Bostonian like me, his life of passion, commitment and service has indeed been a gift and I am grateful for it. Today it seems a different world without Ted Kennedy.