Living History, Part 1
Ted Kennedy, remembered.
Edward Kennedy, the last of Joe and Rose Kennedy’s nine children, was born in Dorchester in 1932. By then, the family was well on its way to becoming an American dynasty. Joe was a tycoon who, in 1938, became a U.S. ambassador, and young Ted enjoyed a world of privilege. He charmed the king and queen of England and received his first Communion from the Pope. But in a clan of athletes and scholars, Ted was neither: He was a chubby boy who often received poor marks from the prestigious boarding schools he attended. He didn’t give his family much reason to believe in him. “You can have a serious life or a nonserious life, Teddy,” his father famously warned him early on. “I’ll still love you whichever choice you make. But if you decide to have a nonserious life, I won’t have much time for you.”
Though Ted Kennedy would never forget those words, it would take years for him to decide which path he would take. He was temporarily expelled from Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam. His first marriage collapsed amid rumors of infidelity. He was quick to take solace in alcohol. Most destructive of all was his decision, late on the night of July 18, 1969, to drive off from a party on Chappaquiddick Island with a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne.
And yet Kennedy survived all this by first asking for forgiveness—and then earning it. Over nearly half a century in the Senate, he authored some 2,500 bills, and his name was on more than 850 that became law. They improved the lives of the young and old, the well and the infirm, the soldiers who waged war and the students who protested it. “He led with his heart,” says John Kerry, now the senior senator from Massachusetts. “It was the biggest of hearts.”
After Kennedy’s death in August, thousands of people lined the roads along which his body traveled from Hyannisport to Boston; tens of thousands filed by his casket at the Kennedy Library. They came to pay their respects and to say goodbye, but also to do something more: to recognize that Kennedy was the one brother who lived long enough to reconcile his failings with his triumphs, and that his life, though outsize, was so very human.
To capture the depth and breadth of Ted Kennedy’s extraordinary career, we spoke to more than 65 of those who knew the man best, from his college years to his final days.
Reid Moore, University of Virginia law school classmate: He had independent wealth. He lived a more dramatic life than most of us. That translated to an Oldsmobile convertible, often with the top down and large dogs in the back seat.
Mortimer Caplin, law school professor: Jackie once said, “You were Teddy’s law professor! Could you imagine Teddy a lawyer?” He was the kid of the family. In a way, they didn’t take him seriously.
George Abrams, Harvard classmate and Kennedy aide: He served as assistant district attorney and tried a few cases, not major criminal trials. One was appealed; the defendant argued Ted Kennedy was too well known and mesmerized the jury.
Adam Clymer, Kennedy biographer: Joe initially was concentrated on planning for the oldest son—first Joe Jr., then after his death, Jack. He wasn’t as precise in his expectations for Ted. But they trained him up to enter politics by making him Jack’s titular campaign manager in 1958.
Dick Tuck, political adviser: It was a title we put on him—that was the extent of his participation.
Claude Hooton, Harvard classmate: We were [campaigning] in Miles City, Montana, and Ted had to go off and meet some people. This guy said to me, “You know, there’s a rodeo in town and 5,000 people will be there. You think he’d ride?” I said, “Heck, he can ride. Hell, he jumps horses—he’s one of the best riders I ever knew.” So Ted and I finally got together at the rodeo. He said, “What am I doing out here?” I said, “Ted, I’ll guarantee your picture in Life.” He said, “What do I have to do?” “To be honest with you, all you have to do is ride a bareback bronc.” “I have to do what?” He was almost speechless. He made six or seven jumps and off he went—he pulled about half the muscles in his crotch. Three weeks later, Life gave him the top half of the page. So, anyway, it had a happy ending.
Hooton: The night after Jack got the Democratic nomination, we were at Peter Lawford’s house in Hollywood for a big party. Everybody was half asleep from the red wine, and Jack told Ted he had to liven it up. Ted came over and said, “Jack said we need to get up and do our numbers,” which we had done for years: “Bill Bailey,” “Heart of My Heart,” and the old Irish songs. When we finished singing, we said, “Anybody in the room who thinks they can do better, come on up here.” So Frank Sinatra stood up and walked over to the band. Then, on the other side of the room, Nat King Cole got up. I said to Ted, “Maybe we should have just quit when we were ahead.” For the climax, Judy Garland sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
In November 1960, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon for president by two-tenths of a percentage point in the popular vote, one of the slimmest victories in U.S. history. Upon assuming office, Jack immediately appointed his brother Robert as attorney general, though he declined to give Ted the State Department job he had asked for. At his father’s urging, Ted would run for the Senate in 1962 (after he had reached the required age of 30). But before he could take on the state’s formidable attorney general, Edward McCormack, for the Democratic nomination, his family would need to deal with speculation about why he had been expelled from Harvard in 1951.
Phil Johnston, former state Democratic Party chairman: One brother is the president of the United States, the other one is attorney general—and then, by the way, I have a third one who’s a war hero, and a sister who started this international organization for the disabled. It’s a wonderful thing to have relatives you look up to, and it’s a burden in that you might feel that you’re not successful if you’re not president by the time you’re 45.
Tuck: When Ted first announced he was going to run for the Senate, both Jack and Bobby didn’t think it was a very good idea. Their father, who really kind of ran things, said, “You guys got yours. He’s gonna get his.”
Robert Healy, former Boston Globe Washington bureau chief: The rumors [that Ted had cheated on an exam] were widespread at Harvard. Those days, you didn’t go into print unless you could verify it, and Harvard wouldn’t touch it.
Abrams: Ted and the person who took the test for him were friends of mine. I knew they had a problem…[but] I never knew the details of what happened until they were publicized in the campaign.
Healy: I got a call from the treasurer of the Democratic Party. He said, “Can you come down and meet me?” So I did. “What do you know about Teddy and Harvard?” I said, “I know he got bounced out of there.” He went in the other room and made a call to the White House. President Kennedy got on the phone and [asked me to come down]. I met him in the Oval Office and the one point I made was, “Look, he’s gonna have to deal with this. Eddie McCormack will hit him with it.” The president turned to [an adviser] and said, “We’re having more problems with this than we had with the Bay of Pigs.” So they just gave me the whole story, including the records from Harvard that I needed. There was nothing left out, I might add, except the name of the guy who took the exam.
Anne Frate, wife of William Frate, who took a Spanish exam for Kennedy at Harvard: Ted and Bill were both young. It was a two-way street, of course, but I’m pretty sure Ted [apologized] in more than one way. We remained close friends.
Abrams: Ted once came to a class function at Harvard, and one or two classmates went after him pretty hard for even running. People felt Ted was running because his brothers were in powerful positions, and they had set this spot for him.
Gerard Doherty, campaign manager: He had very little what you would call liberal support. Strangely enough, two of the consistent picketers against us were [then Harvard student] Barney Frank and [then state legislator] Michael Dukakis.
Barney Frank, U.S. congressman: My first impressions of him were negative. I was dismissive.
Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor: We thought McCormack had earned it and that Ted should start his political career a little lower on the totem pole.
Doherty: At 7 o’clock one morning we were greeting people outside the Charlestown Navy Yard. We see this guy coming along; he obviously wasn’t a very happy guy. He saw Teddy and he said, “Kennedy, they say you haven’t worked a day in your life.” Teddy and I looked at each other. The guy said, “Let me tell you, you haven’t missed a goddamn thing.”
Milton Gwirtzman, campaign aide: Bobby was running Ted through preparation for the debate. He said, “Tell them why you want to serve the public. Tell them why you don’t want to be sitting on your ass in an office in New York.” Which, of course, was what their father had done.
Donald Dowd, campaign aide: [At the debate] McCormack said, “If your name wasn’t Edward Kennedy, you wouldn’t be sitting here.” Kennedy just listened to it, which was so good because people watching on TV switched and said, “You know, he’s picking on this young Kennedy.”
Gwirtzman: The people in Massachusetts had very good experiences with members of the Kennedy family. There was a tremendous amount of goodwill toward him.
John Kerry, U.S. senator: I had volunteered [on his campaign]…I was intrigued by the energy and idealism President Kennedy had brought to politics. And Teddy was this young, charismatic candidate.
Lily Tomlin, actress: The mother of a friend of mine had been in Boston politics all her life. Her mother used to say you always vote for the Italian—unless it’s a Kennedy.
After beating Edward McCormack in the primary, Kennedy won the general election against Republican opponent George Cabot Lodge II with 53 percent of the vote. Mindful of his political inexperience—and the fact that his brothers would be judged by his actions—he waited more than a year before giving his first speech on the Senate floor. Instead, he won over his older colleagues by leveraging his formidable social skills.
Clymer: Before he was in the Senate, I think he just wanted to be in the Senate. I don’t think he had any particular plan. I mean, he didn’t want to be a senator in order to pass national health insurance or something like that. But once he got there, he took to the place. Possibly being the youngest of nine children helps when you’re dealing with a Senate run by people in their seventies and eighties, as the place was then.
Marty Nolan, former Boston Globe Washington bureau chief: I remember Teddy calling me the first time he met the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jim Eastland. He’s looking at Eastland and Eastland says, “You’re the kid brother of the president, huh?” He gets the bourbon out and pours a glass for him and says, “Let’s toast the president!” Teddy told me this and I said, “Well, what’s the big deal?” And he said, “Because it’s 10 o’clock in the morning!” I said, “What’d you do?” And he said, “What do you think I did?”
Abrams: Senator Eastland didn’t agree with some of Kennedy’s major positions, but he really liked Ted. Early on, we were looking for some approvals for our subcommittee. When Eastland saw Ted, he lit up…. We had a good time telling stories, and then Kennedy said, “Well, Jim, we’ve got a couple of authorizations we need from you here.” He said, “Oh, no problem, I’ll sign those.”
Jim Manley, spokesman: The smart senators always knew three things in dealing with Senator Kennedy. Number one: His word is good. Number two: You’re gonna get things done. And third: If you worked with Senator Kennedy, the TV cameras would show up.
Thomas Southwick, spokesman: I remember when he came back from a trip to China, I asked him, “What was it like?” And he said, “It was interesting for me, because I could walk down the street and nobody knew who I was.” I got the sense from him that that was almost a relief.
When JFK was killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Ted was working in Washington. He and his sister Eunice flew to Hyannisport to break the news to their father, who had suffered a stroke two years earlier. But Ted couldn’t bring himself to tell his father that night what had happened. “There’s been a bad accident,” he finally told Joe Sr. the next morning. “The president has been hurt very badly. In fact, he died.”
Gwirtzman: Ted had been presiding over the Senate when someone came up to him and gave him a piece of paper saying that Jack had been shot. He tried to reach Bobby on the phone, but he couldn’t get through. Then he tried Joan and he couldn’t get through. The phones all over Washington were overloaded. He began to worry that [his family] was a target. The two of us and Claude Hooton drove from Capitol Hill through downtown Washington to get to his home in Georgetown.
Hooton: The phones weren’t working at his house. We started ringing doorbells; about the fourth house answered. The phone was under some steps in the kitchen. He had to get down on his knees to get to it. The phone worked—it was a miracle. He got Bobby, and I saw him wince.
After JFK’s assassination, Ted focused on keeping his grieving family together. He was particularly concerned for Bobby, who seemed to take the loss the hardest. “I was so worried about Bobby that I tried to suppress my own grief,” he would write in his memoir, True Compass. “So I just pushed it down further and further inside.” A year later, wanting to fulfill Jack’s legacy, Bobby ran for the open Senate seat in New York and won. Ted, who was entering his second term, was sworn in alongside his older brother.
K. Dun Gifford, aide: Bobby was more of a thinker, Ted was more a doer. They joked about that. Bobby was always reading philosophy books and his speeches were always filled with things from Saint Augustine. Teddy was willing to almost wrestle with people to get legislation done.
Clymer: In Robert’s first year, he and Ted are sitting at a labor committee hearing, waiting their turn. Robert passes Ted a note saying, “Is this how I get to become a good senator?” Ted sends back a note that says yes. After a while Robert writes back, “Just how long do I have to sit here to be a good senator?” Ted’s reply is “As long as it takes, Robbie.” That could have been his motto.
David Burke, former chief of staff: Bobby would be on the floor when Teddy was and hope that Teddy would make a mistake. They were competitive like that.
Abrams: We had a softball game scheduled in the ’60s between his staff and Robert’s staff. Well, we thought it might be good to bring a couple of reinforcements. One of them was our classmate Billy Cleary [who had won a gold medal on the 1960 Olympic hockey team].
William Cleary, family friend: I said to [a staffer], “What am I doing down here?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Say you’re another staff member.”
Moody and impatient, Bobby never took to the Senate, and by early 1968 was itching to challenge Lyndon Johnson for the presidency. Ted didn’t like the idea, and told Bobby he couldn’t win the nomination taking on a sitting president. Bobby wouldn’t be dissuaded, though, and made his announcement. “None of my misgivings mattered anymore,” Kennedy wrote in True Compass. On June 5, 1968, the night of the California Democratic primary, Ted was campaigning for his brother in the northern part of the state.
Burke: Ted and I were in the San Francisco area. When it looked like Bobby was going to win the state, the rally we were at got louder and louder. I told Ted, “We’d better get out of here. This house is going to blow its roof.” We went back to our hotel and turned on the television. That’s how we learned Bobby had been shot.
Caplin: I came back on the train carrying Bobby Kennedy’s casket. People lined up almost from New York to Washington. That was an unbelievably long ride—six or seven hours—and Teddy sat next to the casket for the entire time. He was perspiring and his hands were damp; I really felt that he was frightened. It’s hard to imagine: He was the kid of the family and suddenly he’s the paterfamilias. I feel Ted was overwhelmed by it, and I think that explains a lot of his conduct later on.
Doherty: After the funeral, he took off on a boat and he just sailed for most of the summer.
Jack Driscoll, family friend: Being out on the water was his way of getting away from all his trials and tribulations.
Clymer: He described to me instances of driving up to the Senate and not being able to go in. I don’t think there was any question that he was clinically depressed.
Gwirtzman: There was an effort during the Democratic National Convention [in 1968] to draft him for the presidency. It was a very violent convention because of the conflict between the Chicago police and the antiwar demonstrators. They wanted him to help calm the waters.
Burke: People thought it was in their best interest and that it would be nice for Ted; it would be good for the memory of Bob. But it was just too shocking, the loss of Bobby so soon after the loss of Jack. I believe Ted was emotionally unprepared.
Joseph Kennedy passed away in 1969, leaving Ted as the family’s sole patriarchal figure. The deaths of Jack and Bobby had left 13 children fatherless, and—despite the demands on his time—Ted took responsibility for them. Over the years, they and their children would look to Uncle Teddy (or, as some called him, the Grande Fromage) for direction.
Melody Miller, Kennedy family spokeswoman: He would take his children and his surrogate children—all his nieces and nephews—on these annual camping trips. They saw Tanglewood and Stockbridge. He took them into factories and to amusement parks for some fun. After they had gone through a tour, maybe they had gone to John Adams’s house, he started asking them, “Okay, so what did we learn about John Adams?”
Dowd: He would always take each of them for a walk. He’d try to give them a little advice, or see if anything was on their mind. He was just a great father, not only to his kids, but to Jack’s and Bobby’s kids, too.
Stephen Kerrigan, aide: We were driving in DC and he had just gotten off the phone talking with someone about a serious legislative topic. He looks down at his list and says, “Oh, hold on.” He dials one of his great-nephews or great-nieces—I think it was their sixth birthday—and starts making animal noises. “Oh, you know what I’ve got with me? I’ve got a dog.” And then: “I’ve got a giraffe,” and, “Oh no, I’ve got a gorilla!” At the end of an incredibly hard day, that was one thing he had to make sure he got done.
On the evening of July 18, 1969, Kennedy attended a party for some of Bobby’s female campaign workers on Chappaquiddick Island. Late that night he left with a woman named Mary Jo Kopechne. The car he was driving went off a bridge and plunged into the pond below. Kennedy was able to swim to safety; however, Kopechne was trapped. Kennedy would later say he dove repeatedly into the murky water in an attempt to save her life, yet he failed to report the accident until the next morning. “I had suffered sudden and violent loss far too many times, but this night was different,” he would write in his memoir. “This night I was responsible.” He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but received only a suspended sentence. The political costs were higher than the legal ones: Chappaquiddick ensured that he could never be a viable candidate for president.
Gwirtzman: He had been in the Senate for seven years, but he wasn’t a leader. The first time his name came dramatically to the attention of all the people of the United States was Chappaquiddick. It was on that that they formed their first impression of him.
Dowd: He didn’t even want to go [to the party]. But that’s life, you know? You do things and you basically end up in something you didn’t want.
Gwirtzman: All sorts of rumors started floating around: He had killed [Mary Jo Kopechne]; he’d been having an affair with her; someone else was driving the car and he was covering up for them. I mean, just wild things. He considered leaving public life. I remember David Burke went for a walk with him and said, “Well, what would you do?”
Burke: In all the years since Chappaquiddick, I haven’t talked about it.
Gwirtzman: He finally decided he would address the people of Massachusetts on television and ask them to help him decide what to do: Should he get out of public life? In a draft of the talk, he was actually considering saying that he knew he could never try to achieve the office his brother had achieved. But one of his sisters objected and so that was dropped.
Clymer: I’m told that was at Eunice’s insistence.
Gwirtzman: He received 100,000 letters and telegrams after giving that speech. Considering everything that the people of Massachusetts knew about him and Chappaquiddick, they still wanted him to be their representative in the Senate.
Tuck: I knew Mary Jo Kopechne pretty well. In truth, it was an accident. He probably should have been doing things he wasn’t doing, but I think he was also a victim. The car was run off the goddamned bridge. And as far as any immoral activity with him and Mary Jo, if you want to call it that, I just never thought that.
Dowd: We had a meeting in Sudbury with about 800 people and someone brought up Chappaquiddick. The audience almost booed the guy. Ted Kennedy looked at him and said, “I hope that you don’t have to go through life with anything like that on your mind, because it’s on my mind every day.” He said, “I have to live with that, and it’s something that I just can’t forget.”
When Kennedy returned to Washington, his reputation was tarnished. “He was an upcoming young guy, kind of glitzy, and his brothers had a lot of star power,” says former staffer Thomas Susman. “In the Senate that counted for something, and after Chappaquiddick it didn’t count for something.” In the years that followed, he worked to reestablish his credentials as a serious legislator and an influential voice for progressive causes.
Abrams: He held 16 major hearings on Vietnam out of his subcommittee, because the Committee on Foreign Relations wasn’t holding them.
Burke: In those days, typical trips to Vietnam were arranged by the Pentagon. They’d show you what they wanted to show you. But we sent advance people to scout out various hospitals for civilian casualties, especially to look at the effect of napalm on children. The war certainly wasn’t winning the hearts and minds. It was just killing people, and it was getting worse and worse.
Dr. Lawrence Horowitz, medical adviser and former chief of staff: Kennedy didn’t believe that statistics alone were enough, because behind every statistic is a real live human being, and he wanted people to feel that.
Burke: When we arrived in Vietnam we got the usual greeting from the military. And we would just tell them, “No, here’s where we want to go.” That certainly made the wires back to Washington hum a little.
In 1971, some 2,000 Vietnam vets camped on the National Mall to protest the war.
Kerry:I’m sure we were an odd sight: thousands of veterans, some with long hair and beards, some wearing insignias of America’s finest fighting units, some singing protest songs, some waving the American flag. The Nixon White House was talking about having us all arrested, and we were under surveillance. We were having debates and discussions about whether we should stay on the Mall and risk arrest, or whether we should go somewhere else. About that time, Ted showed up. He spent hours just listening to us and showing his complete solidarity. Soon, other senators followed him, and the way was cleared for us to testify before the Senate, to tell the country what was happening in Vietnam. But it was Ted who broke the ice and made it clear that we veterans had a right to speak. It was one of those moments that crystallized for me what public service was supposed to be. I’d seen politicians who claimed to be on our side but didn’t return our calls and didn’t want to risk coming to the Mall to hear from the very men they’d sent to war, and against that backdrop of frustration stood Ted Kennedy.
Southwick: He was always a champion for people who had no other voice.
Steve Grossman, former DNC chairman: Ted Kennedy had the capacity to understand that the experience of his people was the experience of all immigrants. First it was “No Irish need apply.” Then it was “No Jews need apply.” It was “No Puerto Ricans need apply.” For him, it was all about tearing down the barbed wire—that’s what he called it—the barbed wire of bigotry and racism and hatred.
Southwick: In 1978 Kennedy negotiated with the Vietnamese government to get a group of Vietnamese wives and children of American servicemen out of the country. The soldiers had come back to the United States, but the children and wives were left behind. About two dozen of them flew all the way from Ho Chi Minh City and eventually landed at Dulles. Apparently somebody hadn’t gotten the word to the customs officials, because they wouldn’t let them through. The servicemen were waiting on our side of this Plexiglas wall, and you could see their wives and children on the other side. I was trying to deal with the bureaucracy, but things were getting more and more tense. Finally, Kennedy just walked through the gate with this determined look on his face, took a little girl by the hand, and said, “Follow me.” The whole crowd went through.
Kennedy had long been talked about as a presidential contender, but Chappaquiddick scuttled any chance of a run in 1972 or 1976. When Jimmy Carter’s administration proved incapable of dealing with the myriad crises the country faced in the late 1970s, Kennedy decided he had to act, even if it meant taking on an incumbent president from his own party—and confronting the events surrounding Chappaquiddick.
Clymer: He did not like Jimmy Carter. He thought he was a bad president and a bad Democrat.
Nolan: I showed up at his office the day before he formally announced. He said, “What do you think?” I said, “Well, I read history just as much as you do—you know, it’s never been done. Maybe you’re different and maybe you’re smarter, and being a Kennedy’s a great thing, but being the president may be even better.” He just laughed and said, “Okay…because I asked.”
Horowitz: He was quite concerned about the impact on his family, in particular on the health of Joan. We convened a panel of physicians to review her medical problems and condition, because he would not consider running unless the doctors felt it would do her no harm.
Thomas O’Neill, former Massachusetts lieutenant governor: My father [longtime House Speaker Tip O’Neill] had asked him at a personal level not to run. He really believed Chappaquiddick would lodge in people’s minds and, had they forgotten it, they would have been reminded during the campaign. It would have been the destruction, politically, of Teddy.
Michael Goldman, Democratic strategist: It never reached a point where Chappaquiddick became an issue, because he was sliced so early by the  Roger Mudd interview [on CBS].
Nolan: Roger and I had drinks at the Parker House. We were going through the questions he was going to ask. “You’re going to ask about Chappaquiddick, right?” and then, “Why are you running for president?” Anyone would ask that question.
Southwick: The interview was conducted several weeks before Kennedy actually announced his candidacy. At the time, all across the country, these “Draft Kennedy for President” groups had sprung up and were spending money. We were in the process of setting up the legal mechanisms that you have to have in place, but we hadn’t completed them.
Roger Mudd, former CBS News reporter: When the question “Why do you want to be president?” came up, there was a pause. His answer ran some 420 words and didn’t add up to anything. There wasn’t any substance at all. I figured he’s either never thought about it, or he thinks he doesn’t need an answer because he can merely ascend to the nomination.
Southwick: Right after the interview, he called me and said, “This is a disaster and here’s why: I knew if I said I want to be president, Roger would put it on the air that night.” We would have immediately become legally responsible for all these fundraising groups when we weren’t ready to be.
Mudd: Southwick said that I had blindsided Kennedy, because I had asked him the president question before he had officially announced his candidacy. That’s laughable. Anybody who wants to be president would know why well before they actually announced.
Clymer: Ted didn’t have a clear message even when he started campaigning. I don’t think he had any sense of how focused the media would be on everything he did.
Southwick: The press just went nuts. A reporter for NBC took it upon himself to go out to the senator’s house unannounced, walk in with a camera, stick a microphone in the face of 12-year-old Patrick, and say, “Are you concerned that your father might be killed the way your uncles were?” That was the only time I’d ever seen Kennedy angry. He called me into his office and said, “I just got off the phone with Patrick, and he’s in tears. Isn’t there any kind of limit?”
Horowitz: I went to the White House in the fall of 1979 and met with Carter’s staff. I outlined my personal concerns [for Kennedy’s safety]. To Jimmy Carter’s credit, he said, “Give him Secret Service protection immediately.”
Gwirtzman: Some guy from the Justice Department who specializes in bulletproof vests came out and said, “This is what you’re gonna have to wear.” Kennedy had a medical unit travel with him. There were two doctors and a nurse who were trained in treating trauma—in other words, gunshot wounds.
Doherty: The campaign was like being in a washing machine with no water. It was just brutal.
Wayne Woodlief, Boston Herald political columnist: They made a whole lot of mistakes. When Kennedy came onto the campaign plane, somebody held up a sign that said, “You are now entering the bozo zone.”
Dowd: Late in the campaign, I was in Concord, New Hampshire, with his Washington staff. They said, “Why don’t you get out now? You don’t want to embarrass yourself.” His sister Eunice Shriver said, “Senator, you be a man. Stay in there.”
Timothy Hagan, former Ohio Democratic Party official: After Carter got the nomination, Tom Brokaw and all those people grabbed me on the floor of the convention. They’re saying, “The Democratic Party was divided.” And I said, “Reagan will unite us.” I went over to Teddy’s party later that night, and as soon as I walk into the room he says, “Here comes Mr. Uniter. Isn’t he wonderful?” I said, “Kennedy, what did you expect me to do?” He had to be funny. He could never say, “No. That was the right thing to do.”
Thomas Susman, aide: I was down at the Carter library, going on a tour with [Supreme Court justice and former Kennedy aide] Steve Breyer and his wife. In the 1980 campaign section there was not a single mention of Kennedy. Carter’s grandson was on this tour, and he said, “Yeah, some of the family members still hold Kennedy responsible for Carter’s losing that race.”
Horowitz: The best thing Jimmy Carter did for the country was to preserve Kennedy for an additional 29 years of public service in the Senate, where he had far more impact than most presidents.
In the lead-up to the 1984 election, Kennedy considered another run for president, but abandoned the idea when his children said they feared for his safety. After his divorce from Joan in 1982, the unseemly details of Kennedy’s second bachelorhood provided regular fodder for the tabloids, one of which photographed him having sex on a boat in Europe. But the most damning revelations about Kennedy’s behavior came from a 1990 GQ article titled “Ted Kennedy on the Rocks.” In the piece, Kennedy and his friend Senator Chris Dodd were portrayed as hard-drinking party boys who, at the end of one particular night, reportedly tossed a waitress at Washington’s La Brasserie restaurant onto their dining table and groped her.
John Aycoth, Washington lobbyist: I saw Dodd and Kennedy together many times in the late ’80s. They were like a tag team, I think.
Woodlief: You’ve heard about the great Kennedy-Dodd sandwich, right? This was standard gossip in all the papers down in Washington at the time. They got the [La Brasserie] waitress between them and were, you know, maneuvering around with her as she was trying to wriggle free.
Raymond Campet, former co-owner of La Brasserie: The restaurant business is almost like the monkey business: You don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything, and you definitely don’t talk about anything. There were times he was maybe indulging a little too much. What are you supposed to do?
Aycoth: The James Bond film The Living Daylights came out in 1987. I was representing Aston Martin. I had a car brought in for the DC premiere. It’s parked in front of the hotel with a spotlight on it. I was downstairs when a dealer came up to me and said, “Ted Kennedy and his son are in your car. They’re looking for you.” He and Teddy Jr. were sitting in it, looking for the keys. Clearly they had been drinking, and I wasn’t going to give up this $189,000 Aston Martin. He got very upset and his son started yelling at me a little bit. Two months later, I found out that the senator had contacted the company to get me fired. I thought that was pretty vicious.
Richard Rampell, Palm Beach neighbor: A lot of women came up to him. They would be touching him and smiling at him a lot, a very indirect way of hitting on him.
Aycoth: I was at Club Desiree one night, and when I came back from the bathroom the girl I was with was gone. She came over and said, “They sent champagne over while you were gone, and then [Kennedy] wanted to meet me.”
Tuck: We were in a Jeep one day in Aspen, and Ted was driving and we almost had a head-on collision. He jokingly said to me that I should know better than to get in a goddamned Jeep with a Kennedy.
Rampell: I was supposed to play tennis with Ted on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. He called me up and said his back was bothering him, but would I like to come over for a drink that night? So I went over there with my son, who was very young at the time, and Ted was very clearly intoxicated. I couldn’t really [understand] what he was talking about. I was a little concerned because I didn’t think it was a good thing for my son to see.
Susman: Sure, I saw the photographs of him on some boat with his pants down, and the story of him and Dodd and their girlfriends at the Monocle [restaurant]. The fact is, at 6:30 in the morning he was up, and he had done his homework. He kept his personal life compartmentalized.
Rampell: [One Saturday night] we did a lot of drinking, a real lot of drinking. Seven o’clock the next morning, he starts banging on my door. If it was anybody else I would have said, “I’m sleeping. Get lost.” He wanted to get a set of tennis in before he had to take his mother to Mass.
Gwirtzman: If the 1980s was a “lost decade,” he certainly got a lot of things done in the Senate. That was when he kept pushing the Equal Rights Amendment, and when he changed the Immigration Act. He put through a raft of healthcare legislation on various diseases, including AIDS, and he tried to get some sort of gun control. Each one of those takes a lot of work. So you just have to conclude that he was able to do that and have some drinks at the same time.
Kennedy’s most notorious political moment of the decade was his 1987 attack on Judge Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee. Kennedy’s speech denouncing Bork showed the senator at his most fiery, defending the progressive values with which he had become synonymous. “Robert Bork’s America,” the speech began, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, [and] rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids….”
Bob Dole, former U.S. senator: We were pretty openly critical of Kennedy and others who were dumping on this well-qualified judge. I’d be interested to see what Bork had to say.
Robert Bork, Supreme Court nominee: Every one of the lines from that speech—every one—was a lie. People told me that it was so obviously over the top that it would help me rather than hurt me. They were wrong.
Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law professor and Kennedy adviser: [The way he] made Bork seem like something of an ogre always made a number of people, including me, sort of uncomfortable. But putting it in terms that ordinary people could understand was an important part of organizing opposition to the nomination.
Bork: When you’re nominated for something, you make the rounds to various senators’ offices. I wanted to see Kennedy, and it was odd because he dropped his head and didn’t seem to want to look at me. He said, “Nothing personal.” Yeah, it was just business. Quite aside from my episode, I never had the slightest admiration for the Kennedys or for their behavior, publicly and privately.
In April 1991, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch pleaded with Kennedy to stop drinking. Kennedy took his friend’s words to heart. He curtailed his drinking and began seeing Victoria Reggie, the Louisiana-born daughter of close friends. They were married in 1992.
Clymer: She wasn’t really looking to find a new romance—she had two young children to raise. I think he pretty much despaired of ever finding another happy marriage. But they clicked. When you’d see them together, they gave off sparks.
Peter Meade, head of the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate: Her children became his children. A friend of mine told me his kids were in the same class as one of Vicki’s children. He said, “Honestly, I think Senator Kennedy has been to more parent nights than I have.”
Clymer: Ted’s personal life had been lonely and restless, and it became happy and fulfilled.
Caplin: On his 75th birthday, Vicki was acting as mistress of ceremonies. He started trying to take control and she said, “Ted, I’m in charge here!” She really handled him beautifully.
Hagan: She had him on a diet; he told me he felt like a rabbit because he was eating so much lettuce. He gets on the phone with her: “Vicki, do you think it would be good, maybe, to get a few croutons on the salad? Could I have a few croutons?” She says okay, so the two of us go down into this pantry and he gets the whole box of croutons. We come upstairs and he’s eating them right out of the box. I say, “I don’t think that was Vicki’s intention.” “I know, Tim, but I gotta bite on something that I can chew. That lettuce was driving me crazy.”
Grossman: Ted and Vicki had my wife, Barbara, and me to dinner at Hyannisport. Vicki had made fish with a sauce. It was wonderful. As we finished, Ted jumps up and comes around with the serving platter. He said, “Isn’t this sauce wonderful?” He had this boyish enthusiasm. It was as if he were saying, “Isn’t Vicki an amazing person? Aren’t I lucky to have her?” It was a moment of personal adulation for a woman who, in many ways, saved his life.
Dowd: When we used to stop at a family’s house for dinner on the campaign trail, he kind of envied them. No matter how famous you are, it’s tough when you’re alone. But now he’d sit down and have dinner with Vicki and her children. He had a home again.
His personal life settled, Kennedy was free to devote his energy to fulfilling his potential as a lawmaker.
Frank: He was kind of a walking repudiation of the notion that you had to be either pragmatic or idealistic—he was both. It is precisely because he was so idealistic that he thought he had to be pragmatic about getting those ideals adopted.
Lowell Weicker, former U.S. senator and Connecticut governor: I credit the senator almost entirely with the fall of apartheid in South Africa. At the time, no one in the United States knew what apartheid was. Ted brought various leaders of the African National Congress to his office. Sanctions passed and we overrode Reagan’s veto. I have no doubt that it was because of Kennedy’s efforts that it took months rather than decades for that system to disintegrate.
John Cullinane, family friend: When Nelson Mandela got out of prison and was coming to the United States for the first time, the first place that he stopped was the Kennedy Library. We had a big function for him. I emceed the thing, and you look out in the audience and there’s Paul Simon and Harry Belafonte and everyone else you could imagine. Our table consisted of my wife and I, Stevie Wonder, Mrs. Mandela, Ted, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Onassis, Joe Kennedy, and Eunice Shriver. That was just one table. Even Jesse Jackson couldn’t get in.
Keith Lockhart, Boston Pops conductor: He loved to sing. After dinner in Hyannisport we would retire to the living room, where he had all these books of Broadway songs. I was there once with a rather conservative Republican senator and his wife. They must have thought, Well, this is what those Massachusetts Democrats do—they sing Lerner and Loewe around the piano.
Johnston: He always used to say if he hadn’t gone into politics he might have gone into musical theater.
Father Gerry Creedon, family friend: He would have been a great actor. He did the inflections of the British accent beautifully. He used to imitate Prince Charles turning to him: “Senator from Massachusetts, cawn I call you Teh-tay?”
Deval Patrick, Massachusetts governor: We had invited Ted and Vicki to dinner after a Pops concert at Tanglewood. [Before the dinner], he would just keep calling and saying, “I thought about including this person.” Vicki was mortified. She’d get on the phone and say, “I can’t believe he’s doing this.” That night, we think everybody who had been invited is there—Keith Lockhart and his fiancée, [Broadway stars] Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, who had played the concert—and then in comes this guy with a keyboard.
Bob Winter, Boston Pops pianist: I knocked on the door and Mrs. Patrick answered. I don’t think she was expecting me. When Ted Kennedy saw me, he said, “Oh, there’s somebody else for dinner—make a place for him.” It was the governor’s house, but evidently Teddy was taking charge of the party. After dinner, he wanted to sing. He especially wanted to sing “You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You)” to his wife. Then he prevailed on everyone to sing to their significant others. The governor sang “Embraceable You.”
Patrick: Of course, we’d had a prodigious amount of wine by the time the singing began, so it wasn’t quite as intimidating as it might otherwise have been.
Cleary: He used to have a small party down at his house on the Cape the Friday after Thanksgiving. He would do that every year.
Joan Kennedy, Kennedy’s former wife: I spent 50 Thanksgiving dinners with him over the years. That was a special time for the Kennedys. All of them would come back up to Hyannisport. It was always kind of cold, but we would go out sailing and then we’d all have a big dinner—myself, my children, my grandchildren, and, in later years, with Caroline Kennedy and her entire family. After dinner, we would go into the living room and I would play the piano. Very often Ted wanted to sing some Christmas carols to get us in the mood for the next holiday.
Hagan: We used to tell him the songs were better when somebody else was singing them. But it was the expression of inclusion for him: that we’re all in this together and we do the best we can.
Kennedy handily won his reelection bids for more than three decades. But in 1994, when he was 62, he came up against a formidable opponent: Mitt Romney. The son of former Michigan Governor George Romney, he had made his fortune running a private equity company in Boston, and was promising to usher in an era of fiscal responsibility and job growth.
Dan Winslow, former Romney legal counsel: Kennedy was very rusty when the campaign began, which surprised us, because his reputation had obviously preceded him.
Dukakis: People were saying, “He’s okay, but he’s over the hill.”
Winslow: Throughout the summer of 1994, Romney actually pulled ahead of Kennedy by about five points. Nobody had ever done that before. I think that got not just the Kennedys’ attention, but also the attention of the Democrats nationally, who recognized that you can’t have Ted Kennedy being beaten in Massachusetts.
Johnston: Right around this time I was talking to Eddy Martin, who was a great aide to the senator, and he said, “We’d better get working on this. This whole thing’s going down the drain.”
Nolan: For most of his career, he really enjoyed campaigning. I think he got away from it there for a while, and the race against Mitt Romney woke him up.
Scott Ferson, spokesman: We were driving back to Boston from an event when he spotted a Kennedy campaign sticker on a car up ahead. He said, “Catch up to that car.” The driver asked why. He said, “I paid a lot of money for those stickers. Catch up to that car!” Kennedy rolled down the window and got out of it practically to his waist and started waving his arms wildly at this person, who I think was a little shocked to all of a sudden see Ted Kennedy hanging out the window on I-93.
Burke: He took great comfort in the fact that we weren’t screwing around anymore. We’re gonna run for office, and we’re gonna do it the old-fashioned way.
Dukakis: They discovered that Romney had worked for an outfit that took over companies, basically took the unions out and slashed wages. Vicki strongly urged that that be used. It was, and it was devastating to Romney.
Winslow: We were meeting with the staff to go over the final preparations for the debate. Someone on Kennedy’s staff said, “Look, the senator’s got a bad back. Do you mind if we have podiums on the stage because sometimes he has to lean against it?” The Romney staff immediately agreed. The biggest physical distinction between Kennedy and Romney was that Romney was trim and fit, and Kennedy was not. We showed up for the debate that night to see the two widest podiums I’d ever seen. They were the width of refrigerators, and completely hid both men except for their upper bodies. That was a brilliant move.
Ferson: On the night of the debate, police motorcycles escorted Mitt Romney’s car as close to Faneuil Hall as possible. He got out, the cameras popped, and he and his wife walked fairly quickly in. A couple of minutes later, the senator’s Suburban parked in the same place. He opened the door, got up on his seat, and started banging on the roof of the car with his fists. People were going crazy. I turned to a reporter and said, “Who do you think is prepared for this debate?”
Burke: He was on. He came to remember that the experience that he has had in life, the experience Romney didn’t have, was an enormous source of strength, and he started using it.
Ferson: Romney was charging that a piece of property the Kennedy family foundation owned in Washington had a public tenant, that this was a special deal. When he raised it at the debate, the senator said, “The Kennedys are not in public service to make money. We have paid too high a price.”
Woodlief: That was a game-changing moment.
Burke: I think he sensed that in life you get tests. The Romney thing was a test, and he had overcome it.
Johnston: It took him a long time to come to the point where he became an iconic figure. It’s only since he beat Romney that he did.
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.