Every Legacy Needs An Architect
How sports agent Lee Fentress got the job of memorializing Ted Kennedy.
Late this summer, work will begin on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. The vision for the $50 million facility includes a full-size replica of the Senate chamber, exhibitions honoring Senate history, even in-depth tutorials for incoming U.S. senators. Going up next to the JFK Library out on Columbia Point, the institute is an act of legacy-crafting on an epic scale, a push to elevate Ted Kennedy’s to a plane ordinarily reserved for presidents, to show how he managed to break the surly bonds of the Senate and become something else altogether, something singular in impact and importance to his constituents and his country.
And the man behind it all is…the guy who used to rep former Celtics center Joe Kleine.
Meet Lee Fentress, chairman of the Kennedy Institute (to be fair, he also represented Rick Fox, David Robinson, and Len Bias). If you’re surprised that a former sports agent is coordinating this heady project, you’re not alone. “I’m really the last person to know why [Kennedy] asked me,” says Fentress, with a degree of understatement you wouldn’t expect to find in someone who paved the way for the likes of Scott Boras. “He knew I had just throttled back from my work, so I had spare time. We’ve known each other for a long time, we’d talked about a way to memorialize his years in the Senate, so he asked me to head it up.”
Fentress has been a friend of the Kennedys in general, and of Ted Kennedy in particular, for decades. The two men played tennis together most mornings for 30 years, and the senator calls him “a lifelong friend,” adding, “I’ve always valued his counsel.” Frank Craighill, an old comrade and former business partner of Fentress’s, notes the relationship has always been a close one. “He’s spent a lot of time with Teddy, and Teddy feels a great deal of confidence in him,” he says. And whether it’s of equal or lesser importance than being a FOK, or Friend of Kennedys, Fentress also has political bona fides—unusual for a man in his line of work. (“Generally speaking, we didn’t have too many political aficionados in the sports management business,” quips Craighill.) Plus, this isn’t the first Kennedy legacy he’s helped tend.
After graduating from the University of Virginia Law School, Fentress, a Louisiana native, moved to DC to take a job as an assistant U.S. attorney, where he got to know Senator Bobby Kennedy. Fentress had expected to stay in the office just a few years, but his tenure proved even shorter when Bobby announced his candidacy for president in March 1968. “I resigned that afternoon,” he says, and got on a plane and went to work for Bobby as an advance man. It was then that he met Ted. “In 1968 he was just evolving,” Fentress says. “The focus had been on Robert, but people knew Ted had great political instincts.”