Part 1: Living History: Ted Kennedy, Remembered.
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.