I’ve often thought what sort of legacy I’d like to leave when I pass on. I think the highest ambition one can aspire to is to leave the world a better place for having been there. No one I’ve ever seen exemplifies that distinction as Edward Kennedy did. What better epitaph: the world is a better place for his having been here. Much better. Tributes to him have poured into my inbox today. A few:
From Vice President Joe Biden:
“My wife Jill, and my sons Beau and Hunter, and my daughter Ashley — and I don’t say that lightly, because they all knew Teddy, he did something personal and special for each one of them in their lives — truly, truly are distressed by his passing. And our hearts go out to Teddy Jr., and Patrick and Kara, and Vicki, with whom I spoke this morning, and the whole Kennedy family.
Teddy spent a lifetime working for a fair and more just America. And for 36 years, I had the privilege of going to work every day and literally, not figuratively sitting next to him, and being witness to history. Every single day the Senate was in session, I sat with him on the Senate floor in the same aisle. I sat with him on the Judiciary Committee next — physically next to him. And I sat with him in the caucuses. And it was in that process, every day I was with him — and this is going to sound strange — but he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country could do.
He and I were talking after his diagnosis. And I said, I think you’re the only other person I’ve met, who like me, is more optimistic, more enthusiastic, more idealistic, sees greater possibilities after 36 years than when we were elected. He was 30 years-old when he was elected; I was 29 years-old. And you’d think that would be the peak of our idealism. But I genuinely feel more optimistic about the prospect for my country today than I did — I have been any time in my life.
And it was infectious when you were with him. You could see it, those of you who knew him and those of you who didn’t know him. You could just see it in the nature of his debate, in the nature of his embrace, in the nature of how he every single day attacked these problems. And, you know, he was never defeatist. He never was petty — never was petty. He was never small. And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger — both his adversaries as well as his allies.
Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embracing him, because they know he made them bigger, he made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.
You know, he changed the circumstances of tens of millions of Americans — in the literal sense, literally — literally changed the circumstances. He changed also another aspect of it as I observed about him — he changed not only the physical circumstance, he changed how they looked at themselves and how they looked at one another. That’s a remarkable, remarkable contribution for any man or woman to make. And for the hundreds, if not thousands, of us who got to know him personally, he actually — how can I say it — he altered our lives as well.
Through the grace of God and accident of history I was privileged to be one of those people and every important event in my adult life — as I look back this morning and talking to Vicki — every single one, he was there. He was there to encourage, to counsel, to be empathetic, to lift up. In 1972 I was a 29 year old kid with three weeks left to go in a campaign, him showing up at the Delaware Armory in the middle of what we called Little Italy — who had never voted nationally by a Democrat — I won by 3,100 votes and got 85 percent of the vote in that district, or something to that effect. I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy — not figuratively, this is not hyperbole — literally.
He was there — he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident. He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, my two children were attempting, and, God willing, thankfully survived very serious injuries. I’d turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.
You know, it’s not just me that he affected like that — it’s hundreds upon hundreds of people. I was talking to Vicki this morning and she said — she said, “He was ready to go, Joe, but we were not ready to let him go.”
He’s left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives. People like me, who came to rely on him. He was kind of like an anchor. And unlike many important people in my 38 years I’ve had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was it was never about him. It was always about you. It was never about him. It was people I admire, great women and men, at the end of the day gets down to being about them. With Teddy it was never about him.
Well, today we lost a truly remarkable man. To paraphrase Shakespeare: I don’t think we shall ever see his like again. I think the legacy he left is not just in the landmark legislation he passed, but in how he helped people look at themselves and look at one another.”
Eloquent words from a man who knew Kennedy intimately after sharing 30 years together in the Senate.
From Congressman Joe Sestak:
“”Today, America lost a man who helped shape the future of our country for a generation. Senator Ted Kennedy’s leadership on education, health care, civil rights, worker rights, and so much more has helped millions of people make good on the promise of the American Dream to pass along a better nation to our next generation. He leaves behind a legacy of true patriotism. And we honor his legacy by remembering that we are in this together and by doing our part to make a difference. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kennedy family who are mourning the loss of a dear father, brother, grandfather, and husband.”
“Today marks the passing of a great legislator and an American patriot. Senator Kennedy has been a beacon in the halls of Congress through his dedication to the American people, his sincere patriotism, and his determined efforts in the Senate.
“I feel particularly fortunate to have served in the Congress for half of Senator Kennedy’s distinguished career. During that time, I had the opportunity to interact with him on many occasions. In one instance during the Clinton Administration, I joined him at the White House with then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and President Clinton to discuss developing technologies and a new future for America. While technology was the topic of the day, Senator Kennedy took me aside to get my thoughts on a trade bill he had recently introduced in the Senate. The consummate public servant, Senator Kennedy was always focused on many issues and capable of multitasking. His passions extended way beyond just one or two issues, but instead, he took up the cause for so many while managing to stay determined and dedicated to each and every one. It is for this reason that his imprint is on so many pieces of important legislation that passed during his time in the Senate.
“While he left too soon, Senator Kennedy’s extraordinary legacy will surely live on. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family.”
Senator Chris Dodd:
“I’m not sure America has ever had a greater Senator, but I know for certain that no one has had a greater friend than I and so many others did in Ted Kennedy.
I will always remember Teddy as the ultimate example for all of us who seek to serve, a hero for those Americans in the shadow of life who so desperately needed one.
He worked tirelessly to lift Americans out of poverty, advance the cause of civil rights, and provide opportunity to all. He fought to the very end for the cause of his life – ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need.
The commitment to build a stronger and fairer America, a more perfect union, was deeply ingrained in the fiber of who he was, and what he believed in, and why he served.
That’s why he stands among the most respected Senators in history. But it was his sympathetic ear, his razor wit, and his booming, raucous laugh that made him among the most beloved.
Whatever tragedy befell Teddy’s family, he would always be there for them. Whatever tragedy befell the family of one of his friends, he would always be there for us. And in this moment of profound grief, our hearts are with his wonderful wife Vicki, his fantastic kids Ted Jr., Patrick, Kara, Curran, and Caroline, his grandchildren, and the wide and wonderful extended family for whom he was always a safe harbor.
I will miss him every day I serve, and every day I live.”
National Security Adviser General James Jones:
“As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980’s, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill. Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families. Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.
Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform – his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction. While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people. He contributed a great deal to my “Washington education”, and I’m sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.”