May 20th, 2008
06:29 PM ET

Memories from Kennedy Country

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/20/art.kennedyfamily.jpg caption="Sen. Edward Kennedy and family at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston this afternoon."]

Jack Gray
AC360° Associate Producer

In a way, I now realize, I have always subconsciously considered Ted Kennedy to be immortal. I remember the first time I saw him in person. It was the summer of 1994 and I was at the Yankee Homecoming Parade in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a few miles from where I grew up.

The senator was at the time locked in a tough re-election bid against a little-known businessman named Mitt Romney. From my perch on the sidewalk I heard the crowd down the street start to cheer. And then I saw him. The famous face, the wavy hair, the stylish polo shirt. And then I heard the voice – that inimitable sound.

He bounded down the street with his beautiful new wife Vicki in tow, shaking hands and greeting the crowds in that uniquely Kennedy way. For a teenage news junkie like me, shaking the hand of the man whom I had read about and watched on television for my entire life was a thrill beyond words. He was – and is – one of the original political rock stars.

I would come to meet Senator Kennedy a dozen or so times in the years between then and now, some because of my former job as a television news producer in Boston, others by chance. There was the time I was walking through Boston's Back Bay with my mother and sister and we came upon the senator standing alone on the sidewalk outside his townhouse, soaking up the sun, waiting for his wife to join him.

He was, as is his way, incredibly gracious when we stopped to talk with him for a few minutes. He and Vicki were headed, he said, to one of his nephews' soccer games. For the lone surviving son of Rose and Joseph Kennedy family has always come first. He would often arrive at interviews with a super-sized Kennedy entourage: his wife, his in-laws, his nephews, even his two Portuguese Water Dogs, Sunny and Splash.

For Massachusetts and the nation, he has been a constant – there in the good times and the bad. My friend and mentor, the veteran Boston television anchor Chet Curtis, vividly recalls the moment in 1963 when as a young reporter in the Senate gallery he witnessed a staffer rush to Kennedy's side and say, "Senator, your brother the president has been shot." Three days later my grandparents and parents watched from Massachusetts as he marched behind his brother's casket in Washington.

Five years after that they hung on every word as he eulogized his other brother in New York. And in 1980 the country watched as he challenged President Carter for the Democratic nomination – a challenge that culminated with Kennedy's stirring "Dream Shall Never Die" convention speech.

The Kennedys may belong to the nation, but Massachusetts natives have always felt that we have first dibs. The family that has been a fixture on the national landscape has been even more of a fixture on our local landscape – Senator Kennedy chief among them. We watched as he sailed with Jackie Onassis and her children on Nantucket Sound. We knew each year he would make a special appearance with his aging mother on the Hyannisport porch to celebrate her birthday. We saw him climb into a waiting Coast Guard helicopter when his nephew, John F. Kennedy, Jr., went missing in 1999.

We got chills, as a fellow intern and I admitted to each other in the summer of 2000, when he walked onto the Democratic National Convention stage to the Stephen Stills hit, "You're Still the One." And perhaps my fondest personal memory: handing him a big piece of cake decorated with an American flag when he celebrated his 74th birthday two years ago.

Ted Kennedy is of course, politically, not everyone's cup of tea... or chowder, as he would probably prefer it be described. Now is not the time for that discussion. But even his harshest critics will acknowledge he has been a tireless and effective senator for the people of Massachusetts.

Perhaps on no issue has he worked harder than health care. Tonight Massachusetts is reeling, devastated by the irony that Ted Kennedy's fight for health care has come full circle.

Filed under: Jack Gray • Sen. Ted Kennedy
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Michelle in CA

    My prayers are with Senator Kennedy and his family. Keep fighting!

    May 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  2. Pat

    In my opinion, Ted Kennedy is an abomination to humanity. A murderer who's silver spoon kept him out of prison and his families name, got him where he is today. I don't wish ill health to anyone...If he wants to survive, he needs to get to Houston, TX to Stanislo Burzynski. Oncologists, and the FDA call him a quak and have tried to put him out of business, for his very successful, natural antineoplastin treatment, rather than poisoneous chemothearapy, and radiation. Perhaps this explains his most resent lapse in judgement to endorse BHO, which will be the ruination of the Democratic Party if he gets the nomination. Lou Dobb's here I come!

    May 20, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  3. Cecil Jones

    An event like this will separate Americans from Republicans. The Americans will be crying while the Republicans will be making bad jokes about why Kennedy was so fun to work with. It's too soon for even me to talk about it, but somebody has too.

    May 20, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  4. Michele Jackson

    Driving while listening to news radio, I cried all the way to work this morning and all the way home this evening. But the reality is that, for now, Ted Kennedy is still with us, still vital, as the picture that accompanies your piece glowingly attests.

    I don't know what radiation and chemo may take away from him, but he has a legacy that will never be taken away from us. And the memories aren't distant either. I can hear him vibrant in my ear just a few weeks ago, describing what kind of VP running mate Obama needs. That familiar voice so strong, dramatic and ripe for mocking (i.e. Mayor Quimby). He might have gotten the job in '62 because of who his brother was, but the stature and respect he holds within politics today belong solely to him.

    And even if he never returns to the hill, his accomplishments will continue. If we ever get health care legislation passed, he will have been instrumental in laying the ground work. Same for education. His work on the judiciary committee alone left an indelible mark. The social good he's done far outmeasures the personal and public pitfalls.

    I'm sorry Jack, you can't have dibs on this man. We all share him.

    May 20, 2008 at 9:38 pm |
  5. Deb from Boston

    I have been glued to all the round the clock Kennedy coverage here in Boston for the past few days...and was shocked and saddened to hear the news today. But it wasn't until I read this outstanding piece of writing that I felt others could truly grasp the gift of Sen Ted Kennedy.
    Thank you for sharing your special memories with us, for while Senator Kennedy will be remembered for his huge contributions, it is his everyday interactions with the common folks that truly make him special.

    May 20, 2008 at 8:45 pm |
  6. Christina Brown

    My thoughts and prayers are with the Kennedy family. I grew up on Cape Cod and they are very much apart of it. I wish Ted nothing but peace of mind.
    He is a great Senator

    May 20, 2008 at 8:41 pm |
  7. Megan Dresslar

    To Ted and Kennedy Family.......
    I found out that I was so shock when I was watching breaking news on CNN about Ted Kennedy this morning. I'm so sad for him.
    My hearts go out to all Kennedy I hope he will beat his brain tumor this time, my thoughts and prayers to them....... I have Kennedy history biography at home, I am really enjoy read his book...... I am praying for Ted and family so long, Please God Bless them! Get well soon Ted. My support going to forward to beat this..... Thanks for his memories!
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    May 20, 2008 at 8:36 pm |
  8. Heather

    My grandparents attended president Kennedy's Innauguration and the Ball after wards. They were invited for the next one as well. The Kennedys were a huge influence on my mothers family in CT. I remember going on a trip to washington DC in junior high. It was humid and hot and we we were walking down a side walk and to my left I saw a man with the grey hair and reddish skin this was 1986 or 87. He was a giant to me . He was just walking by himself. I know he will fight and win the battle of his life for his life. He comes from good stock he needs to focus on his life and let the country take care of itself.

    May 20, 2008 at 8:23 pm |
  9. henry Doughty

    Someone get word to Senator Kennedy, I was diagnosed 2 years ago with a very large brain tumor (cancer), and I went to John Hopkins they have a special brain surgery team (the #1 in world i'm told), they operated & removed most & then I recieved Radiation treatments; and on my last check up April 17th, they said I'm that good I don't need to come back, just get checkup next year..
    So someone send him to john hopkins dr Kleinberg Oncology 410-614-2597 , or have him email Me, for more details.
    Hershey, Pa.

    May 20, 2008 at 8:22 pm |
  10. Chris - Hemet, Ca.

    I've always admired Sen. Kennedy, as I have his brothers. They were born into money and yet always chose public service. Thank you Sen. Kennedy for all you have done for this country, we are all a bit better off due to your hard work and patriotism. Hang tough and beat this thing,
    we need people like you. God bless.

    May 20, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  11. Christina, Windber, PA

    When I read the title of your blog entry on the blog's main page, I struggled to come up with appropriate words. However, the first line of your entry says it all "I have always considered Ted Kennedy to be immortal." I know that's not possible, but he's one of those people that you just somehow expect will always be here. It felt like a knife to the heart hearing his diagnosis today. It's unimaginable to think of our world without him.

    As painful as it is for the rest of us, it's inevitablely even worse for his family. Once he became the only surviving brother, he became the head of that family. Every time something happened, a death, someone in trouble, he was the one they turned to. He was the one who took over and was there to help. Now they need to be there for him. It's a heartrending role reversal. It's very difficult to take care of someone when they have taken care of you all your life. I wish them strength and courage in this terribly sad situation. God bless them all and help them through this.

    You are lucky to have known him personally. We are all praying for him and the entire Kennedy clan.

    May 20, 2008 at 7:23 pm |
  12. Annie Kate

    I've always thought Ted Kennedy would remain the one Kennedy brother that endures. He has been such a force in American politics and in his own family, taking up the slack as best as anyone could to give Jack's and Bobby's children a father figure in their lives. He balanced his personal obligations and his work obligations with the same grace and style that is uniquely a Kennedy's. His eulogies at his brother Bobby's funeral and at John Jrs' funeral were characteristically Kennedy – poignant, memorable, and painful and included the public in the sorrow that he and his family were experiencing yet one more time.

    Of all the Kennedy brothers only he has had the "gift of years" as he put it in John Jrs eulogy. I hope and pray that he beats this brain tumor and has many more years yet with us. I simply cannot imagine the political scene without him in it – at least for a while longer. The average person will have lost a mighty advocate when he is no longer on the political stage to brandish his political skills in their favor.

    My thoughts and prayers and best wishes are with him.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 20, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  13. Kay

    I think its sad that today when we hear Ted Kennedy has brain cancer which is very sad and my prayers go out to him , that it has been turned into saying that the torch is being passed from him to Obama.
    Nothing is sincere when it comes to how in Tank the Media has been for Obama this is a Disgrace!

    May 20, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  14. Kathy

    Please bless him and his family.

    May 20, 2008 at 6:44 pm |
  15. Carla Ontario Canada

    Our thoughts and prays are with Ted and his family.
    God Bless

    May 20, 2008 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Cindy

    I have to say that I really have never liked Ted but I did admire his tenacity and willingness to fight to get things done. And I admired the way he handled every tragedy that his family went through. I hope that he pulls through this cancerous brain tumor with ease and keeps on fighting. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his.

    May 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm |