Kerry Pays Tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy on Floor of the U.S. Senate

The Boston Globe reports that “Senators from both parties spent more than five hours today paying bittersweet tribute to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, recalling their late colleague as the chamber’s generous elder statesman, a passionate liberal, and a fierce, well-schooled politician who never shied away from a tough political fight.”

Senator John Kerry was among those today who honored the memory of Senator Ted Kennedy, his friend and colleague. Kerry saluted Kennedy’s almost 50 years of dedicated and distinguished service to the people of Massachusetts and the United States of America.

“Ted’s season of service spanned the administrations of 10 presidents. He served with more than 350 Senators, including those for whom our office buildings are named: Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen and Phillip Hart. He cast more than 15,000 votes. He wrote more than 2,500 bills.”

The full text of Senator Kerry’s statement as prepared for delivery is below:

Mr. President:

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell for the time they have set aside for us to remember Ted Kennedy, our beloved colleague and my friend for nearly a quarter of a century.

It’s difficult to look at his desk – the desk from which he championed so many important causes, the desk from which he regaled us, educated us and befriended us for so many years – and even more difficult for us to imagine our Senate chamber, our nation’s Capitol, or our country without him.

On many occasions in the Senate, he was the indispensable man. On every occasion, in this chamber and out, he was a man whose heart was as big as heaven, whose optimism could overwhelm any doubter, and whose joy for life was wonderfully contagious and completely irresistible.

Ted loved poetry. And though the verse was ancient, the poet could have had Ted in mind when he wrote: “One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.”

Our day with Ted Kennedy was indeed splendid, its impact immeasurable.

Just think for a moment what a different country we lived in before Ted Kennedy came to the Senate in 1962 – and what a more perfect union we live in for the 47 years he served here. before Ted had a voice and a vote in the Senate, there was no Civil Rights Act, no Voting Rights Act, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no vote for 18-year-olds, no Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, no Meals on Wheels, no equal funding for women’s collegiate sports, no State Health Insurance Program, no Family Medical Leave Act, no Americorps, no National Service Act.

All of those are just a part of Ted’s legislative legacy. It is why the Boston Globe once wrote that “in actual, measurable impact on the lives of tens of millions of working families, the elderly and the needy, Ted belongs in the same sentence with Franklin Roosevelt.”

Ted’s season of service spanned the administrations of 10 presidents. He served with more than 350 Senators, including those for whom our office buildings are named: Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen and Phillip Hart. He cast more than 15,000 votes. He wrote more than 2,500 bills.

He had an important hand in shaping almost every important law that affects our lives today. He helped create nearly every major social program in the last 40 years. He was the Senate’s seminal voice for civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, and the rights of workers.

He stood against judges who would turn back the clock on Constitutional freedoms. He pointed America away from war, first in Vietnam and last in Iraq. And for three decades, including his last days, he labored with all his might to make health care a right for all Americans.

And through it all, even as he battled, he showed us how to be a good colleague – always loyal, always caring, always lively. His adversaries were never his enemies.
And his friends always came first. In my office is a photograph of the two of us on “Day 1, 1985,” my first day in the Senate. Ted signed it, “As Humphrey Bogart would have said, This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” For almost 25 years, it was a beautiful friendship, as I worked at his side, learning from the best.
Teddy was the best natural teacher anyone in politics could ask for. I may not always have been the best student, but he never stopped dispensing lessons.

I came to the Senate out of activist, grassroots politics, where the coin of the realm was issues and policy positions. Activists are sometimes so issue focused and intent that they inadvertently look past the personal touch, the emotion connection, for fear it distracts from the agenda. But Teddy, through his actions, showed us all just how essential those things are.

Yes, Tip O’Neill taught a generation of Massachusetts politicians that “all politics is local.” But it was Teddy who taught us that all politics was personal.

All of us knew the kindness of Ted Kennedy at one time or other. In my first term in the Senate, I came down with pneumonia. I was single, tired and run ragged, and Ted decided I lacked the kind of care necessary to get well. Next thing I knew Ted instructed me to depart for Florida and stay in the Kennedy home in Palm Beach and be cared for until I got well. I did exactly that.

He also showed up at my house the evening of Inauguration Day 2005 and, together with Chris Dodd, we shared laughter and stories of the campaign trail. We were loud enough and had enough fun that someone might have wondered if we were somehow mistaken and thought we’d won. He understood the moment and knew the best tonic was laughter and friendship. Many times, that’s all he needed to do, just be there. You couldn’t help but feel better with him around.

All of us who served with him were privileged to share Ted’s incredible love of life and laughter. In the cloakroom sometimes, the roars of laughter were so great they could be heard out on the Senate floor. Once, I remember, Ted was holding forth – I will not share the topic – and the presiding officer pounded the gavel and demanded, “There will be order in the Senate – and in the cloakroom.”

His pranks were works of art and brilliant calculation. One night, after a long series of Thursday-night votes had pushed Senators past time to catch commercial flights home to the Northeast, Senator Frank Lautenberg arranged for a private plane for himself to get up to Martha’s Vineyard. It turned out that a number of Senators needed to travel in that direction, and when Frank learned of it, he kindly offered Sen. Claiborne Pell, Ted and me and ride. There was no discussion of sharing the cost. Everyone thought Frank was being very generous. But the next week, all of us were on the Senate floor for a vote when official-looking envelopes were delivered to us under Frank Lautenberg’s signature, with exorbitant expenses charged for the flight. Senator Pell roared down the aisle brandishing the bill. Senator Lautenberg was red-faced, protesting he knew nothing about it, when out of the corner of my eye, I spied Ted Kennedy up by his desk – Cheshire-cat grin – so pleased with himself. Mystery solved: Ted had managed to secure a few sheets of Lautenberg’s stationery and sent false bills to each of us.

Ted once told me that his earliest recollections are of pillow fights with his brother Jack and, in the years, that followed, sailing with Jack. At the end of the day, Ted’s job was the long and tedious task of folding and packing the sails away.

In politics and in the great progressive battles that were his life’s work, Ted never packed the sails away. And were he here today he would exhort us to sail into the wind as he did so many times. There is still so much to do, so much he wanted to do – and so much he’d want us to do now, not in his name but in his spirit.

When Ted was 12-years-old, he spent hours with his brother Jack taking turns reading the epic civil war poem, “John Brown’s Body,” by Stephen Vincent Benet. It is book length and filled with great and terrible scenes of battle and heartbreaking vignettes of loss and privation at home.

It surprises me to read it now, to find so much in it that reminds of Ted.

“Sometimes,” Benet wrote, “there comes a crack in Time itself. Sometimes the earth is torn by something blind. Sometimes an image that has stood so long it seems implanted as the polar star is moved against an unfathomed force that suddenly will not have it any more. Call it the mores, call it God or Fate, call it Mansoul or economic law, that force exists and moves. And when it moves it will employ a hard and actual stone to batter into bits an actual wall and change the actual scheme of things.”

Ted Kennedy was such a stone.

Over the years, I received hundreds of handwritten notes from Ted, some funny, some touching, all of them treasures. Just before Thanksgiving, Ted sent me a note that he would be spending the holiday with his beloved sailboat, the Mya. He wished me a happy holiday, adding, “If you’re out on the ‘Sound’ look for the ‘Mya.’ She will be there.”

I will always be on the lookout for the Mya and her big-hearted skipper, who taught me so much about how to steer the right course.

There is an anonymous quote I once read which because of Ted’s faith may well describe how we should think of his departure from the Senate. It says:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone.”

Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” – there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes! And that is dying.”


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About Pamela Leavey

Pamela Leavey is the Editor in Chief, Owner/Publisher of The Democratic Daily as well as a freelance writer and photographer. Pamela holds a certificate in Contemporary Communications from UMass Lowell, a Journalism Certificate from UMass Amherst and a B.A. in Creative Writing and Digital Age Communications from UMass Amherst UWW.
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One Response to Kerry Pays Tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy on Floor of the U.S. Senate

  1. John Stone says:

    John Kerry’s woderful tribute to Ted Kennedy was also in Newsweek Magazine.