Bob Franken

The Ted Kennedy I Knew We All Knew


He started out in the reflected glory of his older brother. So many wilt in the heat from the harsh light of comparison. But Teddy Kennedy carried the torch in ways he might very well have never been able to do had Jack and Bobby not been taken away.

Kennedy ended as perhaps the most respected among his fellow members in the United States Senate. But his is a much more complicated life’s journey. His legacy is an bitter mix of that accomplished public life and a controversial and deeply troubled private one.

As a beginning reporter in Washington, I was frankly, in awe, the first time I approached him. That lasted about two seconds. Like everyone who dealt with him, I was immediately put at ease. Ted Kennedy truly enjoyed people, reveled in the give-and-take. That talent, combined with his remarkable grasp of Senate mechanisms means he will leave behind a record that is unmatched. His congressional and fellow Democratic colleague for 33 years, Rep. Ed Markey, told me “There is no issue of social justice that doesn’t carry his imprint”

But Kennedy’s story was also tragic and filled with bitter controversy. It is not complete without the Chappaquiddick death of Mary Jo Kopechne and the questions that still remain about what actually happened before during and after she died in the car he was driving that July night in 1969.

From then on, he became as well-known known for his womanizing and carousing as for as his Senate record. His wife Joan left him after her own struggles with alcohol and his infidelities.

All of this pretty much guaranteed he would never assume the Presidency He made a run at it in 1980 but was not able to topple his party’s incumbent, Jimmy Carter. That was left to Republican Ronald Reagan.

So Kennedy retreated to the Senate. For decades he led his country from there in ways he probably could not from the White House. His greatest passion from the 1970’s onward was universal health care. After his bain tumor erupted last year, he struggled to to live long enough to see health care reform become reality.

That outcome is still in doubt but just about all who are eulogizing him are pointing out that in death his symbol may be an inspiration for the politicians to craft a meaningful bill, in the bi-partisan manner that defined his approach. What those who are mourning his loss also say is that it will be impossible to fill the void left by Teddy Kennedy

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