My first close memory of Ted Kennedy occurred when JFK came to Cheyenne Wyoming during the 1960 Presidential campaign and spoke at a rally in Pioneer Park. Teddy, so it was reputed, was working the bars in the hotels downtown. JFK gave an eloquent speech, and my colleague and I both asked each other afterward "What did he say?" And our answer was, "He said he would get the country moving again." "Did he say how he was going to do that?" "No, but it sounded awfully good." I was then director of the Wyoming Legislative Council, kept humble by dozens of Wyoming legislators who were both skeptical of me fulfilling my job tasks and actually doing research on controversial issues, and also alarmed with me because I had the gall to switch political parties. Little did I know that day that I would end up in Washington, D.C. very soon working in the Treasury Department on tax policy revision and helping rewrite depreciation guidelines, a product that confused accountants and tax experts for years to come.
I was not in Washington for long, because I had to complete my Ph.D. dissertation by deadline or I would be required to retake my preliminary examinations, a fate worse than anything I could imagine. But I was in D. C. long enough to experience the Kennedy aura, to watch Caroline ride her pony on the south lawn, and to attend hearings at the Capitol as one of many backup functionaries standing around while the heavy artillery boomed from both Congress and the Treasury. I watched Teddy. He and I are the same age, he born in February, I in September. He died at 77 years of age, I will be 77 in another month, God willing. Thus, it was only natural that I would empathize with his life, his career, and feel a distant though consuming interest in his life and accomplishments.
JFK was assassinated during the middle of my Ph.D. doctoral dissertation defense, an event that saved me from any serious examination since some of my committee had worked in the Kenendy Administration. Bobby's death followed, and then Teddy was left to defend the family dynasty. I always thought that if had not been for Chappaquiddick, Teddy might have been president. He was one of the towering orators of his day, matching the eloquence of his brothers. But the cloud of Chappaquiddick would never leave so Teddy settled into the routine trenches of hard work of hearings, constituents, legislation, and trying to make the country healthier, better educated, and to make life fairer and more abundant. I don't know that even the most empathetic person in existence could possibly have even come close to experiencing the heavy losses and burdens resting on Teddy's shoulders as the guardian of the Kennedy legacy and family.
The enormous workload Kennedy carried for so many years, all of the hearings, all of the negotiations, all of the political debates, all of the intensities of politics, all contributed to his legacy as one of the great giants in the history of American government. Most work in Washington is tedious, bone-dry, contentious, lonely, and often unrewarding when facing vitriolic attacks from well-heeled adversaries with enormous vested political and economic interests. That Teddy was to survive this maelstrom of political give-and-take for so many decades surely warrants admiration, even from his political enemies. Most senators give up and quit after two or three terms, not willing to take the heat any longer, to endure the endless hours of hearings and paperwork, and anxious to return to a more normal life. Teddy never gave up. He never quit. His love for the Senate, for his colleagues, for his country was unbounded. He died leaving a huge void and an irreplaceable legacy. Others gave up, exhausted and disillusioned. Teddy just kept going to the end of his days.
I am only an observing citizen who has watched and marveled from afar the extraordinary life and accomplishments of this great man. And I always remembered that we had one thing in common: We were both born in 1932. Though I never met him, I will miss his quirky smile, his booming voice, the Kennedy twang, and his dedication to those causes he felt were critical to the well-being of the Americans for whom he worked and sacrificed for so many decades. RIP.