Ted Kennedy’s Living History

Ted Kennedy, remembered.

The hard work on the campaign trail paid off for Kennedy. He was reelected by 58 percent of the vote, though it was still the smallest margin of victory since his first campaign. “He was delighted to be a senator again,” says David Burke. That battle reignited Kennedy’s passion for public service and reminded him why he first sought office all those years ago.

Jeannie Kedas, aide: In the morning I would come in and there would be a napkin with a name written on it. He’d say, “I watched the Today show with Willard Scott. It’s so-and-so’s 100th birthday and she’s from Brockton. Can you find her so I can call her?” My desk was always filled with little slips of paper like that.

Lockhart: I mean this in the best sense: He never stopped being a politician. He never stopped shaking hands and kissing babies.

Doherty: Once we were walking up Beacon Street in front of the State House. A fellow I knew from the telephone company waved at me, and Teddy said, “You know him?” Next thing I know, Teddy goes up about four rungs on the ladder to shake his hand. We got another 15 yards up the street and there’s a fellow going down a manhole. Teddy stuck his head down and said, “How are you doing down there?”

Manley: You knew when you went to work for Kennedy that you were able to get things done. You could put up with the long hours and the stressful situations and the hard work because he was willing to work just as hard.

Ferson: He liked to say this in front of you: You never leave his office, you just stop getting paid.

Ellen Guiney, aide: Two or three years after I had stopped working for him, I was on Martha’s Vineyard for the Fourth of July weekend. I got a call, “Ellen, Senator here! I’m in my car headed to Springfield for the annual labor picnic and I wanted to present how many potential jobs we’ll need for the rehabbing of Boston school buildings. Could you get me the figure?” You would never say, “Senator, come on.” You would say, “I’ll try.” So I said, “Sure, Senator. I’ll try.” It took a couple of hours, but I got it. My husband said, “Couldn’t you just ballpark it?” Not with him.

Clymer: A couple of years ago, if you had been watching a roll call vote in the Senate, C-SPAN will just show them wandering around the floor. Kennedy was much more purposeful than anyone else. He had a 3-by-5 card that said, in essence, “Check with [Christopher] Dodd on how things are going in his family leave hearings,” “Talk to [Richard] Lugar about the nuclear disarmament bill.”

Manley: All of these Republicans would run for the Senate railing against Senator Kennedy, and next thing they know they end up being best pals with him. He always took a perverse little delight in that.

Dole: He sometimes had that stern, confrontational attitude when he’d get up to speak, but it never lasted.

Gwirtzman: He had enormous stamina. They used to say that Franklin Roosevelt had an extra gland. Ted Kennedy had at least two.

Manley: George Mitchell once said that no other senator came to the floor as well prepared as Kennedy. One day there was a minimum-wage bill on the floor. It was a Friday and there was no one there, but he just pounded away for 45 minutes, haranguing against the injustice of it all. When I was walking him out to the car, he didn’t say anything. But his look was like, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”

Driscoll: We have a home in Hyannisport, and about four years ago, when we weren’t there, our phone rang. The secretary from Washington said, “The senator was tooling around the neighborhood on his golf cart and drove up to your house. Apparently you or your wife must have left the lights on.” I said, “This is now the standard of constituent services.”

O’Neill: When you think about it, where’d he find the time? Where’d he find the time to go sailing? Where did he find the time to write the notes, paint the pictures, keep a family, and do everything in the Senate that he did? Where did he find the time?

Kerrigan: In 2000, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and I was talking on the phone to a colleague in the Washington office about it. A few hours later, the senator flew up to Boston for a meeting. In classic Kennedy style, he walked into my office and said, “Steve, we’re taking care of that whole thing. Ten o’clock tomorrow morning. Everything’s good.” And then he walked away. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Two seconds later, Vicki came in and gave me a big hug. “We heard about your dad. Did Teddy tell you that he got your father an appointment at Brigham and Women’s tomorrow?” He got my dad the same doctors that would take care of his daughter Kara.

Johnston: I had a sister who died in December 2002. She died at 6 in the morning, and he called me by noon or 1 o’clock. But that’s not even what was so remarkable. Months later I discovered he called the same morning Kara was diagnosed with lung cancer. He called me in the middle of his crisis.


In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Kennedy and the new president recognized that they were representatives of the nation’s two leading political dynasties. They forged an unlikely friendship; Bush invited Kennedy to the Oval Office for a private chat about family, during which he pointed out that he was using Jack Kennedy’s desk. The warm relationship continued through the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though it would dissolve over Kennedy’s refusal to support the war in Iraq.

Robert Draper, Bush biographer: On September 11, Laura Bush was on the Hill when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked. One of the very first places she was brought was Senator Kennedy’s office. She was extremely distraught, worried about her husband and her daughters. Kennedy was a consoling figure at that moment.

Kerrigan: At around 11 that morning, he called me and said, “I want you to call every Arab-American group in Massachusetts and tell them we know it’s not their fault, and we’re here for them. And I want you to get the manifests from those two planes, because I have to start calling family members right away.”

Loretta Filipov, widow of Alexander Filipov, American Airlines Flight 11 passenger: [Kennedy’s] voice was cracking and he said Al was a hero. I think we were both close to tears.

Christie Coombs, widow of Jeffrey Coombs, American Airlines Flight 11 passenger: None of us expected a call from our senators after 9/11. To be quite honest, I expected a call from the president, which never came.

Cindy McGinty, widow of Michael McGinty, who died in the World Trade Center: We needed an honor guard for Mike’s funeral, but I couldn’t find his discharge papers. The Navy was like, “If you can’t find the discharge papers, then we’re not going to deal with you.” I really felt like my government had let me down. Within 24 hours Senator Kennedy’s office fixed it.

Johnston: I was with him in Hyannisport the day before the vote on the Iraq war. All the Democrats were jumping ship, they were going to go with Bush and vote to go to war. He got very, very emotional about it. He said, “We’ve been down that road before, and a lot of people died. I’m not going down that road again.”

William Bulger, former state Senate president: At the Kennedy Library, I stood up and praised him for voting against the war in Iraq. He got up afterward and said, “Of all the votes I ever cast in the United States Senate, I’m proudest of that one.”

Draper: Iraq was the 800-ton elephant in the room. From Bush’s point of view, you couldn’t consider Ted Kennedy without considering his opposition about going into Iraq. There were no more one-on-one meetings in the Oval Office. No more chats about brothers. Their relationship became strictly professional after the Iraq war began.

Brian Hart, father of John Hart, a soldier killed in Iraq: In October 2003 we received a call from our son John imploring us to get them some armor on their vehicles. That call was exactly a week before he was killed. I later learned there were only about 400 armored Humvees in all of Iraq at that point. [Securing more than $200 million for additional armor showed that] Senator Kennedy had the willingness to accomplish what, for us, is the lasting legacy of our son’s death: that other soldiers, his comrades, would have equipment he had lacked.

Draper: By the end of Bush’s second term, there came a movement in his administration to award Kennedy the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ultimately, that movement got cut off at the knees by right-leaning Republicans who could not forgive or forget Kennedy’s vehement opposition to the Iraq war.


In 2004, Kennedy was hopeful that John Kerry, whom he had served alongside in the Senate for 19 years, would prevail in his presidential run against George W. Bush. As Kerry’s loss became clear late on election night, Kennedy and Vicki visited him at home. “He was down about the opportunities lost to move the country in a new, more progressive direction,” Kennedy would recall in his memoir. “The reelection of President Bush meant that it would be another four years before there might be a great leader in the White House.”

Woodlief: He worked it very hard for Kerry, went out to Iowa and made some of these famous speeches where he yelled so loud he could wake the dead.

Kerry: Ted was campaigning [for me] with [my daughter] Vanessa in New Mexico. They were visiting an Indian reservation and the tribal medicine man wanted to bestow a blessing. He took a feather and chanted as he asked Vanessa and Ted to stand side by side, extend their hands, and bow their heads. With a sacred feather he touched their foreheads, touched their hands and their feet, all the while chanting away. When he finished, Ted leaned over to Vanessa and whispered, “I think we just got married.” Ted loved sending personal notes to people. So a couple of months later, Vanessa got a note from Teddy in which he paraphrases the famous Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca: “No matter what happens, we will always have New Mexico.”

Tomlin: The mail would come and I’d have a little handwritten note from Ted. I have actress friends who don’t even send me handwritten notes. Their secretaries type them up.

Kerry: He worked as hard as anyone to get me elected, and he was there on election night when a lot of people didn’t know what to say as the votes turned and bad news trickled in from Ohio. It was one of those moments where Teddy just had an instinct to show up and be there—he’d done the same thing before, standing there on my front steps after my father died. He and Vicki brought big hugs and total understanding…. The next morning, Ted and Vicki were the first to arrive at my home again…and together we took a long walk up a short flight of stairs at Faneuil Hall to concede.