Comments Honoring Senator Edward Kennedy
September 10, 2009
Mr LEAHY: Madam President, I think when I hear the Senator from Mississippi, before him, the Senator from Illinois, the Senator from California, the Senator from Massachusetts and others who have spoken, it brings back so many memories. The memory I have was on August 26th, when, early in the morning we heard the news about Senator Kennedy. Now, Marcelle and I knew the day was coming and that we would lose a close friend of over 35 years, but our farmhouse in Vermont was still filled with grief on learning of the news. We walked back and forth in the road in front of the house looking out over the mountains and finding it hard to put in words how we felt.
We left Vermont to come down and join Vicki, such a dear and wonderful person, and all of Senator Kennedy’s family at the memorial service in Boston and so many offered touching stories of how they remembered Senator Kennedy. Ted Kennedy Jr. gave and incredibly moving tribute to his father. I told him afterward that Senator Kennedy, “That’s the kind of eulogy he would have liked. It was so Irish.” Ted Kennedy Jr. made us all laugh and he made us all cry, almost in the same sentence. How Irish? How Kennedy? But how true were the emotions of every man and woman in that church; from the President to the Vice President, to former Presidents, to Senators, to Members of the House, to close friends and to so many of the Kennedy family.
I think of being sworn into this body, as a 34-year-old, nervous Senator. One of the first who came up to shake my hand after being sworn in was Ted Kennedy. And then Mike Mans field and Howard Baker. I was just awed to think I was in the presence of such people. And then serving with Ted for 35 years, speaking with him almost every single day. I look over at his desk - something I have seen over the 35 years when we have lost colleagues - but I don’t know of any time it has hurt so much to see the black drape across the desk - to see the vase of white flowers. I went by it yesterday and put my hand on the desk. I’ll admit was I was overcome with emotion and left the floor.
I have so many memories, as we all so, of our friendship. Senator Durbin spoke about how Ted Kennedy had a way, no matter who you were, if you had a tragedy in your family, or an illness, or something had happened, he would call, he would write, he would offer to help. It made no difference who you were. I was very, very close to my father. He met Ted a number of times and when my father passed away, virtually the first telephone call my mother received that morning was from Ted Kennedy and I remember my mother taking comfort in that.
Senator Kennedy’s office is just one floor below mine in the Russell Senate Building. On many occasions, especially when we were going for a vote, we could hear his great laugh echoing down the halls. It could change your whole mood, your whole day. We often talked of the bond of the New England Irish. We spoke about that when we came back together from Pope John Paul II’s funeral and stopped to refuel the plane in Ireland. It was like the pied piper through Shannon Airport with paintings of President Kennedy. We walked through there with Ted and Senator Chris Dodd telling Irish stories. These memories are of going out when he was walking the dogs outside of Russell and just chatting and talking about,” how’s your family?” “How’s this one or that one?” of someone we had talked about a few days before.
After he died, one of our newspapers in Vermont had a front-page picture that my wife, Marcelle, had taken back in 1968. It showed a young Ted Kennedy in Vermont campaigning for his brother, Robert, and talking with an even younger State’s Attorney of Chittenden County. The two of us were talking about Robert Kennedy. I gave that photograph to Ted a few years ago after I found it in my archives. He chuckled and talked about how young we looked and then asked for another copy so he could sign one to me. That day we sat there and talked about his brothers; obviously the President and Senator Kennedy, also his brother, Joe Kennedy, who had died. I talked about being interviewed by his brother, Robert Kennedy, when he was the Attorney General and he invited me down to the Department of Justice as a young law student. He talked to me about the possibility of a career in the Department of Justice and how that talk had meant so much to me when his brother told me how independent the Department of Justice must be even from the President of the United States.
We never have enough time in this body. When a roll call started and the conversation stopped, but I remember every bit of that so much. I remember after that time that I campaigned for Robert Kennedy, the next time I saw him was here as Senator-Elect and as a young prosecutor. I walked into his office to talk about, with trepidation, about what committees I might become a Member, and this great voice “Good morning Senator!” came from him. I turned around assuming a Senator was walking in behind me and I realized he was talking to me. His wonderful wife, Vicki, was part of a small book club that my wife, Marcelle, was in. The days they would meet, Ted would come up and put his arm around my shoulder and say, “Patrick, we’re in trouble today, our wives are meeting. Our wives are meeting and tonight we’re going to get our marching orders.” You know what, Madam President? He was right.
All the years I served on the Judiciary Committee until this past year I sat beside him. I am going to miss him on the Judiciary Committee. I’m going to miss his help and his advice. I’m going to miss him on the Senate floor because not having him with us in the Senate will make a huge difference in negotiations on legislation - whether it’s on the current issue of health care reform or any other issue. I remember one meeting with Ronald Reagan when he was President, with several of us, Republicans and Democrats, and he said to Ted, “Thank goodness you are here, Ted, you are bringing us together.”
And that difference extended beyond our shores. He personally made such a difference in bringing peace to Ireland and ending apartheid in South Africa. I remember going with Former President Clinton to Ireland after the peace agreements and everybody would thank the Prime Minister of Ireland, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, President Clinton and they all wanted to come over and thank Ted Kennedy.
His sense of history and of our country and his firm and constant belief in America’s promise and America’s future was inspiring. His willingness to spend time with the most junior Senator of either party made him a Senator’s Senator. I think every single Senator, Republican or Democrat, would agree he was a Senator’s Senator.
It’s easy in politics to appeal to the self-interests in each one of us. Ted Kennedy appealed to the best in us, to the American verities that are written not on water, but in stone. He appealed to our sense of justice, to our sense of responsibility to each other, to our uniquely American sense of hope and possibility. In the Senate he labored to help reach bipartisan progress in health care, education, civil rights, voting rights, immigration reform and so much more.
The powerful have never lacked champions. But Ted Kennedy was a champion for ordinary Americans, for those who struggle, and for those who did not have a champion. He believed everyone in the great land deserved the opportunity to pursue to American dream.
I thought last night at the President’s speech, talking with Mrs. Kennedy before the speech and with Senator Kennedy’s three children after the speech, it was just impossible to put fully in words how much I will miss him.
Marcelle and I miss our friend dearly. We know that it was a privilege to call him our friend. It was a privilege to serve alongside such a public servant, dedicated as he was to making better the lives of millions of his fellow Americans. It is a sad passing of an era, but Ted Kennedy also would tell us, it is a time to look to the future.
I close with this: I always thought when I left the Senate I would say farewell to this body and Ted Kennedy would be here to wish me Godspeed - I wish him Godspeed.
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