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August 26th, 2009
03:45 PM ET

Memories from Kennedy Country

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/26/art.kenhist2.jpg]

Jack Gray
AC360° Producer/Writer

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 one of the original political rock stars.

I would come to meet Senator Kennedy a half 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 always, 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 always came 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 was 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 unsuccessfully 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 Orleans 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.

The last time I saw Senator Kennedy in person was at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Though weakened by his illness, he nevertheless brought the house down. It was a moment I will never forget.

Ted Kennedy was, of course, not everyone’s cup of tea… or chowder, as he would probably prefer it be described. Indeed, he had his flaws. But even his harshest critics will acknowledge he was a tireless and effective senator for the people of Massachusetts.

Perhaps to no issue was he more dedicated than health care. Today Massachusetts is reeling from the news that Ted Kennedy’s fight for health care has come to an end.

Follow Jack Gray on Twitter @JackGrayCNN.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Jack Gray • Sen. Ted Kennedy
soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Tina

    I was enthuse watching him on tele at the 2008 convention at Denver. He gave a great speech. I saw him as a true democrat who wanted the best for his people. As sick as he was he made time to deliver a speech. Its good to hear good things about him whiles he was alive. Lets celebrate him. Sen. Kennedy R.I.P.

    August 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  2. Robin Cox

    I will never forget watching Senators Kennedy and Byrd tearing at each other on the senate floor; Kennedy, the more passionate of the two this day, each in diametric opposition to the other. And when it was over, maybe an hour or so later, Senator Kennedy put his arm around Senator Byrd and said, "Now Bob, how about we go and get that be-ah (beer)."

    I think that's the definition of Statesmanship.

    This country will miss him.

    August 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  3. BettyAnn Nacogdoches,TX

    Hello Jack,
    Very nice tribute to Senator Kennedy. what a sad day. So this is the end of the Camelot era. Wasn't it amazing?
    My good friend who lives here in Nacogdoches,TX was a driver for Senator Ted Kennedy for many years. He has gone to the funeral.
    My, the stories he can tell! What a wonderful human being Teddy was.
    I am sure my friend will come back with even more stories to share.
    Thank you for the blog today Jack.
    I for one will never forget the impact Senator Ted Kennedy had on this country and the people he represented.
    Rest in Peace Senator Ted. ☮
    @BettyAnnTX

    August 26, 2009 at 6:46 pm |
  4. Megan Dresslar - Shoreline, WA

    Jack,
    I found out I turn on my computer, check my e-mail from CNN and checked my local news that Edward M. Kennedy had died due his brain cancer. I was so shocked, sadden, devastated, and cope.
    My heart goes to Kennedy's family, friends, colleagues, Boston's people and his wife, 2 kids....." This is breaking heart for Kennedys....
    🙁 Yes, late of his Eunice Kennedy Shiver also died too 2 weeks ago.
    Also, Thanks for your writing so beauitful!! It is very somber for me to remember Kennedys.

    August 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  5. Jan Sheehan

    Today, we are all from Massachusetts.

    I'll never forget meeting Senator Kennedy in the hall of the Senate building in summer of 1969. I was a contestant in the National Spelling Bee and my family and I had broken away from the group Capitol tour to roam around ourselves (you could do that back then.) It turned out to be brilliant idea. We went to Sen. Kennedy's office and his secretary gave my sister and me black and white head shots of him. As we were exiting the office, we saw him walking down the hall toward us, his head down. (It happened to be the one year anniversary of RFK's assassination.) Still, he stopped and took the time to chat with us, sign our photos, and, seeing my Spelling Bee badge, to ask what word I had gone down on. Tocsin. He said he couldn't spell it either. What a thrill! The autograph has now faded (this was before Sharpies) but the memory never will.

    August 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  6. Lauren--NY

    This was lovely, Jack. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. You're too young now, but someday you should write a memoir. I'll be first in line.

    August 26, 2009 at 5:53 pm |
  7. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Thanks Jack. That was really a great piece. I said it this morning but I will say it again, my condolences to the family.
    And, Jack, I have to say this, every time I think of you I hear that young special needs child , well, character, in The Dreamcatcher saying," Watch out for Mr. Gray!" For some reason I always think of that when I think of you. Can you tell me why?

    Donna Wood
    Lexington, Tennessee

    August 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  8. Heather

    Hi Jack
    What a touching tribute. You are lucky to have met Senator Kennedy. He certainly has an important place in American history. From Canada,my condolences to his family.

    August 26, 2009 at 5:06 pm |
  9. Bonnie Donahue

    What a wonderful article. The greatest way we can honor Sen. Kennedy is by fighting to reform health care for all. He will truly be missed and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Isabel Siaba, Brazil

    Hi, Jack!

    Wow! How do you write well. His texts are very good! And today is full of emotion and memories. Very cool ... thanks!

    August 26, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  11. Carol B.

    It's sad that he and his sister passed away so close together. However, a family that has known so much triumph and tragedy will most likely rally again. -Having lived with my family in MA & had many generations on my Father's side there, I think of all the relatives who followed the saga from Joe Sr. & Rose, until present day descendants. You wrote a very nice tribute, Jack.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  12. Barbara in Boston

    Thanks for everything, Teddy. We love you and will miss you. Massachusetts will never be the same. Rest in peace.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  13. Jennifer - Michigan

    Wow Jack, What a post – very emotional and insightful. I like your writing style. May he rest in peace. Have a great day, talk to you later.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  14. Jacqueline, NY

    I am truly sadden by the death of Senator Kennedy. Though somewhat expected, I am still in shock because I wanted him to make it through and beat cancer.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kennedy family and friends. Our country will never be the same without him. May he rest in peace.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  15. Judy B

    Senator Ted Kennedy will be deeply mourned. If all of our politicians had half of his empathy for the common people, we would have a better country. His accomplishments and efforts in public office stand out above all others at this time. Even in death, his last letter showed concern for the need for health care reform. I know, if he'd been able, he would have been there in a bipartisan way to make things happen. We'll miss you, Teddy!

    August 26, 2009 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Larry

    It makes you wonder how things may have turned out had Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. survived and entered the world of politics that Joe Sr. had planned for him. But then again, how often does the media ever make any reference to Ted Kennedy’s eldest brother.

    August 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  17. Megan

    Thank you Jack great article.
    After attending school in Boston for the past four years I have seen with my own eyes the impact that Ted Kennedy had on so many from his native state. Working as an assistant for WBZ-TV I also saw what most citizens don't. I saw the impact that Kennedy had on citizens that he didn't want the media to know about. He truly cared for the people that make up America. He will be missed.

    August 26, 2009 at 3:18 pm |
  18. Marla Hill

    Let's honor his legacy by carrying on the fight with even greater determination. He would have wanted it that way!

    August 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm |
  19. Karen Zappa

    Very nice,Jack. You're such a good writer!

    August 26, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  20. Rosetta

    In Jan. 2004 my daughter signed up to go on her senior fieldtrip to Washington. During that trip we had the privilege of meeting Sen. Kennedy. The students were excited and he took the time out to speak with them and answer a few questions. Though he was busy he allowed the group of us to stand on the steps in the halls of the White House and take a picture with him, a picture I will always cherish. It is sad to hear of his passing, but in his time he accomplished so very much and was loved by a multitude of people. He will be missed.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm |
  21. Cheryl K. Sask Canada

    Thank you, Jack, for sharing your memories. A sad day indeed to lose such a great man. And sad for you too. He made a huge impact on you.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  22. Bradley

    Sad passing for sure, but not unexpected.
    He on balance led a life where his successes and initiatives overcame his many flaws.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  23. Caren in Boston (finally!)

    I'm really glad you wrote this, Jack, cause it gives us even more insight into Ted's personality. I know everyone will miss him, but perhaps MA the most. He was ours. He represented us well.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:36 pm |
  24. KIm

    "Don't lean over or touch the rail "but guess who was speaking ? What a powerful speaker for a cause he believed in. The rest of them were boring speakers. Honestly,half asleep listening ready to head for GeorgeTown and Nathans but he'll wake ya up with interest and projection on a cause to listen and stay. We agree to disagree on PL 107-110 NCLB and yet we build on what's working and end what's not. He left a lot of gifts shared because he cared , we get to keep and work on.. Yes,the guard taps you on the shoulder and it's embarrassing. Whatever,finally a speaker not boring and it was Ted Kennedy.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
  25. DesireeSimmons/whitefox306@twitter

    I remember that he was in the hospital and I said a prayer and
    knew he would pull through...
    I'm sure each American has wish a loved one would live for ever,
    but they must move on to the next phase of life some would call it
    the next level of the experience in the universe.
    My son ran to me this morning and said mom,Ted Kennedy is dead ( He said it three times) and when I heard it I was not anxious I paused and while on a phone call,
    I looked at him and said I know...
    I didn't get to meet you Senitor Ted Kennedy but I'm sure my prayer reach heaven so you had a longer stay with your family...
    An exceptional human being.
    No there's another star in the skys its name is Ted Kennedy

    Rest friend of humanity...
    The battle is won...
    I hope that you where truly cherished by your wife.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  26. Tracey

    Very nice Jack. Very nice.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  27. Chrystal

    The Kennedys have always made an interesting read, and this post was no different. Edward (Ted) Kennedy was quite a person, thanks for sharing your memories.

    August 26, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  28. shelly drori

    Thank you, Jack for this inspiring piece about how the Kennedy family touched your life. As a Legal Alien in the US (I grew up with Thatcher...) I find myself lacking in the history of the Kennedy family, but now i am curious to read and understand more. My family and I happen to be going on vacation to Cape Cod this week so I guess thats a good place to start.
    shelly drori

    August 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm |
  29. ann

    Early this morning , i was on the computor and read the news of Sen. Kennedy's passing. Although, we all knew he was ill you always hoped that he would pull through . He passed close to when his sister Eunice Shriver passed. There is some comfort in this.
    I feel sadness for a remarkable person, who we relied on to stand up for liberalism in this country. Perhaps, we took for granted that Teddy would always be there on the side we wanted . " At least we can rely on Ted Kennedy" we thought.
    Sadness and honor and a feeling of how great this country really is.
    Rest in Peace.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  30. carolina m moguel

    I was follow his carrer 16 years ago, I love the way He serve, and His love for people, no matter nationality. I'm a hispanic woman and of course i speek spanish, and I always remember him siging a song in spanish, His humble caracter and His carisma. Now the Lord enjoy His company.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  31. Michelle

    Jack that is a great memory of Ted Kennedy. Not to long ago
    I started collecting book on the Kennedy family. It began with an
    interest in Bobby Kennedy when someone gave a copy of the
    book by Evan Thomas. Before too long I was collecting books
    and JFK and ended up with quite a collection. Then an amazing
    thing happened, someone who had saved the original copy of
    Life magazine special edition on John F Kennedy gave me the
    original magazine and I took a look at those photos today.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  32. Lauren

    I grew up in Massachusetts and my father worked on John and Bobby's campaigns. Ted Has worked hard for the working people of America and has done remarkable things. But please remember he choose to let a young woman drown to death to protect his political future. Men of real character do what is right at the moment regardless of the impact to themselves because it would be impossible for them to do anything else.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  33. Pati Mc, Camp Hill, PA

    Thank you for sharing such personal memories, Jack. Truly a devastating day for the family, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and each and every American. My prayer is that in Senator Kennedy's honor the Health Care battle finds a positive end.

    He was a great man, and will leave us a great legacy.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  34. MzsEm

    Beautifully written Jack. My grandmother was from New Bedford and the Kennedy's were her heroes. She was devasted at the loss of John and Bobby. If she were here, I'm certain she would feel the same for Teddy. She regarded Teddy as she would a much loved younger brother. She admired his strengths, lamented his all too human frailties and supported his every cause. Avo` Viera passed her love of all things Portuguese, Massachusetts, and Kennedy to her grandchildren. As I mourn the loss of Senator Kennedy, I find that I am also mourning the loss of an important peice of my family history. O deus abençoa-o e mantem-n Senhor Teddy!

    August 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm |
  35. Lynda, Sonoma CA

    Thank you for this, it was touching and sent chills up and down as if I were there myself...

    August 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  36. lampe

    Virginia: how can you call truthful comments about Kennedy disparaging remarks? Like it or not Kennedy will be not only remembered for the good things he accomplished, but also for the bad things that happened. And, I'm sorry but you can not tell his story without telling both sides of it. While I send my thoughts and prayers out to all his family and his friends, there are still people with broken hearts that happpened along time ago.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  37. Mohamed Kallon

    Senator Kennedy was man that will never forgotten for his outstanding jobs around the globe may Allah rest his soul in peace and provide us someone to continue his dream for the people.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  38. Gomsu

    Hi Jack,
    Great to read your description of the late Senator and how it felt when you saw him. It brings back memories from when he came to East Lansing, MI and spoke at "the Union" hall. My sister and me were able to get pictures because I had enough guts to jump out of the crowd right onto the walkway as he was leaving and proudly announce "I am a MSU sophmore would you please let me have picture and hug!"

    Senator Kennedy didn't even mind, he just said okay girls shall we.
    I am 26 years old now and can happily acknowledge I met him. I took out that old picture upon hearing of his death and I am reminded of how humane he truly was to his constituents. I can only hope to emulate that devotion to my patients as a nurse.

    Yvonne
    Michigan

    August 26, 2009 at 1:16 pm |
  39. Jeannie Whalen, Philadelphia, PA

    Thank you, Jack, for sharing your memories. Your tribute was heartfelt and very moving.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  40. Yoli

    I will miss our Lion. My thoughts and prayers are with his family who must be going through a very rough time right now.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  41. Virginia

    After hearing and seeing so many disparaging remarks today, it should be noted that Senator Kennedy's passing should be treated as a high-ranking, long-term member of Congress deserves...dignity and respect. Regardless of your political/personal views; please allow his family, friends, and fellow members of Congress to mourn his passing at this difficult time. Then you may resume your criticism. And, by the way, I am a card carrying member of the GOP. God Bless the Kennedy family at this time, both for Senator Kennedy's passing and for the recent loss of Mrs. Shriver.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  42. meenas17

    The kennedy charisma still lingers. U.S, is totally fascinated by the Kennedys. Ted ,the last of Joseph Kennedy's son is no more.His grace and poise will never be forgotten.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  43. Larry

    Perhaps Mary Jo Kopechne can rest in peace now.

    August 26, 2009 at 1:05 pm |
  44. Kimberley

    Excellent piece Jack. Thank you for sharing. I am sad that Sen. Kennedy did not live to see Healthcare reform, but I can only imagine the deep sense of loss his entire fanily must feel at his passing. The Kennedy family has lost two of its strongest and most vocal members this summer. It is a sad season indeed.

    Kimberley

    August 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  45. Larry

    Rose was the only Kennedy I'll ever miss.

    August 26, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  46. Presley

    To be brief, I could write an epic passage, The Kennedy name and legend and dynasty is ours, American to the core.

    Surviving a constant wake of tragedy, public at that, Teddy, our Lion, rallied and created a place for himself. Not just on name alone either, he was his own man and leader.

    R.I.P. Senator Kennedy.
    The Lion sleeps now but will live on in a political legacy that will never be rivaled.

    August 26, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  47. Lilibeth

    Hi Jack, thank you for that beautiful tribute. You were lucky to have met him. We will all miss him. May he rest in peace.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    August 26, 2009 at 12:46 pm |
  48. Martina Ilstad Germany

    Maybe this is the end of camelot,but Sen.Ted Kennedy shows us the right way.I am German,but i am deeply sorry for his family,and for the American people,too
    The whole world lost a big human and politician.

    August 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  49. Gayle McCauley Malden,Mass.

    Thank you for this,Jack.As a native of Massachusetts myself,I know exactly what you mean when you say 'The Kennedy's belong to the nation but we get first dibs...' Perhaps it's that we are familiar with the surroundings that they lived in.We have walked the same beaches,seen the same sunsets,smelled the same ocean airs.Those simple actions help me to relate to the spirit of the family.I'm glad you have some nice memories with Ted.His passion and commitment to the Commonwealth will be sorely missed.I don't think anyone will ever be able to fill his shoes...ever. : (

    August 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm |
  50. Annie Kate

    Jack

    I envy you for meeting Ted Kennedy and actually being able to talk with him. You said you always kind of thought of him as immortal; I always hoped he was. When he spoke, he like his brothers inspired the listener, and he sounded so much like his brothers that you could close your eyes and just listen and hear the same cadences and vocal overtones that were typical of JFK's and RFK's voice as well.

    What impressed me the most about Ted was that even though he put in a full day of work, diligent work in serving the people of Mass. and the nation, he would hardly ever miss a school event, a recital, or some other family event for not only his own children but for his neices and nephews as well. HIs brothers having died, Ted took on the responsibilities of a father figure to their children and somehow with all those children balanced the family life and the work life as graciously as he did everything else. You knew what was important in Ted's life because he lived it.

    His eulogies of his two brothers and of John Jr. all emphasized that they had been given every gift except the gift of years. Even though he had massive responsibilities, Ted was given the gift of years and he made the most of it with his work and with his family. I just wish it had been a few more years before he left us – he will be missed.

    August 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
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