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Public Statements

Remembering Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

REMEMBERING SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY -- (Senate - September 10, 2009)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I thank Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell for the time they have set aside for us today to remember Ted Kennedy, our beloved colleague, my senior Senator for nearly a quarter of a century, a friend, a man I met first and who had great influence on me in politics back in 1962 when, as a young, about-to-be college student, I had the privilege of working as a volunteer in his first campaign for the Senate.

It is difficult to look at his desk now cloaked in the velvet and the roses, a desk from which he championed so many important causes, a desk from which he regaled us, educated us, and befriended us for so many years, and even more difficult for us to think of this Chamber, our Nation's Capital, 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 a wonderfully contagious and completely irresistible thing.

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 Kennedy had a voice in the Senate 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 these are literally 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, as we heard from the minority leader, of 10 Presidents. He served with more than 350 Senators, including those for whom our principal office buildings are named: Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen, and Philip Hart. He cast more than 16,000 votes. He wrote more than 2,500 bills. He had an important hand in shaping almost every single 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 the last days, he labored with all his might to make health care a right for all Americans.

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--his friends--always came first.

In my office there is a photograph of the two of us on day one--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. And, yes, like any colleague in the Senate, there were moments when we had a difference on one issue or another, but we always found a way to move forward in friendship and in our efforts to represent the State.

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 the lessons. I came to the Senate out of an activist grassroots political base, where the coin of the realm was issues and policy positions. Activists are sometimes, as I learned, so issue focused and intent that they can inadvertently look past the personal touch or the emotional connection for fear that it somehow distracts from the agenda. But Teddy, through his actions, showed us how essential all of those other elements of political life are.

Yes, Tip O'Neill taught a generation of Massachusetts politicians that all politics is local. It was Teddy who went beyond that and taught us that all politics is personal. All of us knew the kindness of Ted Kennedy at one time or another, Mr. President.

During my first term in the Senate, I came down with pneumonia. I was then single and tired and Ted deemed me not to be getting the care I ought to get. So the next thing I knew, he literally instructed me to depart for Florida to stay in the Kennedy home in Palm Beach and be cared for until I got well. Indeed, I did exactly that.

He also showed up at my house the evening of Inauguration Day of 2005, and together with Chris Dodd we shared laughter and stories from the campaign trail. We were loud enough and had enough fun that someone might have wondered if we were somehow mistaken and thought we had won. He understood the moment. He knew the best tonic was laughter and friendship. Many times that is 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.'' It was the first time I ever heard that call for order.

His pranks were also works of art and usually brilliantly calculated. One night after a long series of Thursday night votes that had pushed Senators past the time to catch commercial flights home to the Northeast, Senator Frank Lautenberg had arranged for a private charter for himself in order to get up to Massachusetts. It turned out a number of Senators needed to travel in that direction, and when Frank learned of it, he kindly offered Senator Claiborne Pell, Ted, and myself a ride with him. There was no discussion of sharing the cost. Everyone thought Frank was being very generous.

But the next week, when we were reassembled on the floor of the Senate, official looking envelopes were delivered to each of us under Frank Lautenberg's signature with exorbitant expenses charged for this flight. Senator Pell roared down the aisle, came up to me sputtering about this minor little aircraft and how could it possibly cost so much money. Senator Lautenberg was red faced, protesting he knew nothing about it, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted Ted Kennedy up there by his desk with this big Cheshire cat grin starting to split a gut, so pleased with himself. The mystery was solved. Ted had managed to secure a few sheets of Lautenberg stationery, and he sent false bills to each of us.

He once told me his earliest recollections were of pillow fights with his brother Jack and, in the years following, 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 his sails away. 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 that he wanted to do, and so much that he would 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 Steven Vincent Benet. It is book length and filled with great and terrible scenes of battle and heartbreaking vignettes of loss and privation and home. It surprises me to read it now and find so much in it that in fact reminds me of Ted. Benet wrote:

Sometimes 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 on the polar star is moved against an unfathomed force that suddenly will not have it anymore. 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 imploy 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 who actually changed the scheme of things on so many issues for so many people. Over the years, I have 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 Maya. He added: If you are out on the sound, look for the Maya. She will be there. Indeed, I will never sail the sound again without thinking of the Maya and her big hard skipper.

There is an anonymous quote that I once read, which because of Ted's faith--which was grounded and deeply important to him--I think it describes 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. 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 is 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 she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, ``There, she is gone!'' There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout; ``Here she comes!'' And that is dying.

That is the way Ted Kennedy will live in the Senate--his spirit, his words, and the fight that still comes.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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