Flashback From August, 2009 – Remembering Ted Kennedy (1932-2009)

This popped up in my “memories” on Facebook today. This is a tribute I wrote for Ted Kennedy at the time of his death:

Edward “Ted” Kennedy

Today I say a sad good-bye to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is getting buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to his older brothers Jack and Bobby.

It’s not often I pay condolences to politicians. But there was just something so likeable about Ted Kennedy. Sure, he was flawed, and made countless mistakes – some of them painfully tragic and downright humiliating. But he also endured. It’s not everyone who loses nearly half of their siblings by the time they’re just older than 30. And it’s not everyone who has siblings as famous, successful and driven as his were.

Maybe I have a soft spot for Ted, the youngest Kennedy, because I too am the youngest child. Sometimes it’s tough feeling like you don’t measure up to your older siblings. It’s probably true that youngest children tend to have inferiority complexes. And in a family like the Kennedys, those feelings had to be multiplied by at least 10. You weren’t just expected to go to college, you were expected to go to Harvard. And play football. And be an “alpha male.”

As a Kennedy, you weren’t just expected to be a public servant – you were expected to be president, at least if you were male. And in that regard, Ted Kennedy didn’t live up to daddy Joe Kennedy’s wishes. But in true youngest child form, he found another way to stand out and make a difference. And what a difference he made – as a champion for numerous civil rights causes – for immigrants, working-class Joes and people who, at one time, had to use separate bathroom facilities and water fountains because of the color of their skin.

When Ted Kennedy mourned the untimely deaths of his two more famous siblings, Jack and Bobby, virtually the whole nation mourned with him. As he visibly choked up on live TV delivering his brother Bobby’s eulogy, some Americans not only grieved along with him, but saw him for the human being that he was. Warts and all.

The Kennedy clan is probably the closest thing the U.S. has to a royal family. The Kennedy family gets as much tabloid press, with ranks of fans and naysayers probably being pretty equal. But like the royal family in Great Britain, everyone in the U.S. can name at least one person from the famous family, or recall the sordid details from a story about one of them behaving badly. Anyone remember the “blue dot girl?” William Kennedy Smith? Chappaquiddick? Of course we do!

Just days ago, people of Boston stood at the sides of roadways just for a glimpse of the hearse carrying Ted Kennedy’s body. More than 20,000 waited in line just to see his coffin at the JFK Library. Now that’s royal treatment. He was a person of the people, and the people of Boston paid their respects in any way they could. Hell, if I lived in Boston, I would have skipped work to try to see his coffin, too.

Finding out he had terminal brain cancer last year added yet another Kennedy tragedy to our list of sad events that Americans could share together. We watched in admiration as he took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention and gave a boisterous (and at times, tear-jerking) endorsement of Barack Obama, likely disregarding doctor’s orders. Political pundits say this act helped put Obama in the White House. And again Ted took part in the inauguration of Obama, where he collapsed. I was happy he had lived long enough to see both of those historic days, especially since his brother Bobby had predicted that the U.S. would have its first black president within 40 years (which he said in the 1960s).

Determination, tragedy and dogged perseverance pretty much summed up Ted Kennedy’s life. Yes, he gallivanted around on sailboats near Martha’s Vineyard, didn’t want wind turbines in his back yard, cheated on an exam at Harvard and took responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the Chappaquiddick incident. But he was also a tireless champion of numerous social programs and more importantly, the average working-class American. Just as importantly, he took over as patriarch of the family after the deaths of his brothers, becoming a de facto father to more than 10 of his brothers’ children (they were Catholic, after all!). He was a beloved uncle to many, including Arnold Schwarzenegger (who referred to him as “Uncle Teddy”).

With Ted Kennedy’s death, I believe the “Kennedy Curse” has been lifted. Like his older sister Rosemary (institutionalized her whole life as a virtual vegetable after a botched lobotomy in 1941), Ted paid the price for the family curse by living – through countless tragedies, public humiliation, failed ambitions, and ultimately, brain cancer.

I think we can leave him alone now. Fellow Catholics would probably say he’s more than done his penance for his sins. He didn’t die from an assassin’s bullet like his brothers, and didn’t get a search-and-rescue mission like his handsome nephew JFK Jr.. He just didn’t wake up. Kind of an anticlimactic death for a Kennedy, wasn’t it? One could joke that even in death, he didn’t measure up to his older brothers!

Through nearly 50 years in the U.S. Senate (raising minimum wage, helping enact Civil Rights legislation, immigration law reform, championing heath care reform among many, many other accomplishments), he became a political icon in his own right and to many, a hero for underdogs and the disenfranchised. Some would call that redemption. I call that the American Way. I’d like to think that even his father would be proud of him.

May the lion sleep peacefully now. I’m sorry I won’t hear you roar anymore.

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