TRIBUTE TO CONGRESSMAN GERRY STUDDS
JOHN F. KENNEDY LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
(As Prepared for Delivery)
Gerry lived a wonderful life of service and dedication to others. We miss him very much, and we'll never forget him. His leadership for so many years in Congress proves beyond any doubt that it matters very much whom we, the people, elect to represent us in Washington.
Gerry was a Congressman of immense courage, vision, and compassion, and he was guided by the same fundamental principle that shaped the lives of my brothers Jack and Bobby - that each of us can make a difference and all of us should try.
As Gerry never hesitated to make clear, Jack was the reason he was drawn into public service. When President Kennedy called on Americans to ask not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country, Gerry's life changed forever. Washington became a magnet for a new generation of young, brilliant, and committed Americans determined to help the nation live up to its ideals at home and abroad. It was a time of hope, possibility, and progress, and Gerry was present at the creation.
He became a Foreign Service officer in the State Department, helping Sarge Shriver begin the Peace Corps, and then moved to Jack's White House to help plan a domestic Peace Corps as well. Like all of us, he was devastated when Jack left us, and he came to Capitol Hill where I first met him as a legislative aide to Senator Pete Williams of New Jersey.
He left soon after that to teach at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire. But when the war in Vietnam began to tear the country apart, Gerry answered the call again. He signed on as State Coordinator for Gene McCarthy's Presidential campaign in 1968, and won national renown for masterminding the strategy that led to McCarthy's historic success in the New Hampshire Primary. Gerry inspired countless others that year by demonstrating what committed citizens can accomplish when they dedicate their hearts and minds to a great cause.
Two years later, in 1970, he stepped up to the plate himself and ran an extraordinary campaign of his own for Congress. He built an unprecedented grassroots team and very nearly defeated the entrenched Republican pro-war Congressman from Cape Cod, which hadn't elected a Democrat for half a century.
I stood beside him at a major rally in New Bedford that year, when he pledged to the Portuguese fishing community that he'd learn to speak their language in the next two years, so he could talk personally to every one of them.
Two years later the grassroots army he assembled with MarDee Xifaras became the irresistible force that made the immoveable object move. He'd learned Portuguese, and that was the final straw. The incumbent Congressman decided not to run again. Gerry Studds was on his way to Capitol Hill - and Cape Cod had a brilliant new young Representative in Washington with an immensely appealing vision of a new future for the Cape in all its unique aspects.
Gerry was a reformer from the outset. He never forgot that his mission was always to improve the lives of his constituents and the life of the Cape too. He never accepted things as they are, when the opportunity was there for lasting change.
He also pushed for major overhauls of the way Congress does its work. I swallowed hard over one of his early proposals, to require term limits for members of the House and Senate.
Many years later, a campaign opponent tried to attack him for abandoning his reformer's zeal for term limits and succumbing to the old order on the Hill. Gerry responded immediately that his passion for the issue hadn't faded at all. In fact, he said, he intended to stay in Congress just long enough to enact that reform.
His love for the Cape was obvious to all of us and constantly inspiring. One of his finest achievements was persuading Congress to start paying close attention to the health of our oceans. No one did more to conserve this magnificent part of God's creation than Gerry Studds, and with global warming coming at us, we miss him more than ever now.
His accomplishments were brilliant. The 200-mile limit to keep at bay the huge foreign trawlers that were destroying our magnificent coastal waters and fisheries; the creation of the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary, now named in honor of Gerry; the return of the Atlantic Striped Bass made possible by the Studds Act.
He also inspired us all with his commitment to the creation of the Harbor Islands Trust, and his vision of opening up the beauty and magic of the sea to hundreds of thousands of children in the Greater Boston area.
Above all, he loved the Cape and its wonders with all his heart and soul - the oceans and the marshes, the islands and the beaches, the fish and all the other water life - the bluebird, as Thoreau wrote, that "carries the sky on his back," or as Stewart Udall said so eloquently at the dedication of the National Seashore on the Cape, "We yearn for the long waves and beach grass; we see white wings on morning air, and in the afternoon, the shadows cast by the doorways of history."
Gerry had no doubt, as a former teacher, that he could impart the same awe he felt about the sea and its treasures to every future generation of youth.
He loved the idea that I was his Cape constituent, and we had countless discussions of how to persuade Congress to act. I was grateful for his frequent and thoughtful newsletters, and I cherished the times we spent together.
There was no better way of understanding the awesome responsibility we have to protect our natural resources than spending time with Gerry Studds.
We'll never forget as well that Gerry did all this in a world that was too often hostile to him simply because of who he was. He was a lesson to each of us on how to handle adversity, and to persevere in the face of intense opposition. He knew that to reach our goals in life, we sometimes have to sail against the wind to reach the port of heaven.
Inevitably, Gerry became a leader in the battle against AIDS. This year is the 25th Anniversary of the first report on the disease, and it still saddens me to remember the appalling indifference to the suffering of so many and the tragic consequences for tens of millions of families throughout the world.
Gerry Studds stood against all that. He fought against the ignorance and indifference and bigotry at great personal cost, so that our country could move beyond that dark period in our recent history. In doing so, he brought hope to millions, and helped save thousands of lives.
As the first openly gay member of Congress, he was a trailblazer for gay rights, and I admired him all the more. It was a great joy for all of us that, after so many years of fighting the good fight, our Commonwealth saw the light, and Gerry and Dean were able to affirm their love for each other in the full majesty of the law of our Commonwealth.
I'll always miss Gerry's courage and compassion and leadership. I'll never forget our wonderful rallies on Cape Cod on Monday evenings before election day, and the good times we spent together sailing on the Cape's waters on my boat Mya and his beloved Bacalhou.
All of us who love the Cape owe an enormous debt to the incomparable Gerry Studds. As the poet wrote,
I must go down to the seas again, to the
Lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and
The white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey
I must go down to the seas again, for the call
Of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be
And all I ask is a windy day with the white
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and
The sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the
Vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where
The wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the
Long trick's over.
May God grant you that quiet sleep and sweet dream you've earned so well, Gerry.
Your Portuguese was a lot better than mine, Gerry, but I'll say it anyway -
Muito Obrigado--thank you very much for everything, my friend. We love you.