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Magazine / CONGRESS

Remembering Ted Kennedy

A collection of stories about the longtime senator drawn from interviews with former colleagues, staff members, and other Washington figures.

September 5, 2009

Over the course of Edward Kennedy's 47 years in Washington, thousands of people served with him in Congress, worked for him in the Senate, or crossed paths with him as an ally or foe on legislation. On the following pages are some of their recollections of the Massachusetts Democrat. The stories help explain why Kennedy was considered so effective in his work. Many more remembrances -- more than 75 in all -- can be found at NationalJournal.com/rememberingkennedy.

Alan Simpson

Republican senator from Wyoming, 1979-97

We met in the summer of 1960, at Svilar's Bar and Dining Room in Hudson, Wyo. The owner was an old friend of mine, a Democrat, and Ted was there campaigning for Jack. He was the same age as me. I remember he said he would ride a horse, and later on he did that -- went down to a rodeo and got on a bucking bronc, and he managed to stay on for seven seconds. The minimum is eight seconds.

 

My dad [Milward Simpson] was elected to the Senate the same year that Ted was, and they became friends. We were only a few months apart in age, and Dad used to say, "I like the kid; he's caused his parents as much pain as you have." I remember after I was elected to the Senate, it was 1979, and I had brought my mom and dad up to Washington. There was an announcement that there would be a little reception for us in the Mansfield Room, and do you know, Ted was the first person there to see us.

Then we did the radio show Face-Off five days a week for eight years. I remember one show, both our mothers had just died, each within five days of each other -- mine at 93 and his at over 100. We were both a handful for our parents, and we talked about that. Ted said, "Well, you know, we had great mothers, and they stuck by us, even when we weren't exactly great sons." And I said, "Yep, they're probably up there, Ted, clearing the way for us." And he said, "Well, if they are, they'll need a bulldozer."

Once, we were getting off the Capitol subway early one morning and a woman came up to him. She was very nasty, very aggressive, and she said, "What you did, leaving that woman in that car, was shameful." And he said to her, "It is with me every day of my life." Nobody around, just him and me.

We talked right after the diagnosis. He said, "Life is a bowl of cherries." I would send him these cards in exceedingly bad taste, and Vicki said they made him laugh. He was a wonderful and dear friend. I love him, and I'll miss him. -- John Maggs and Alexis Simendinger

Mark Schneider

Former Kennedy staffer and Peace Corps director

In 1974, when my trip to Latin America through the Judiciary Committee was being arranged, we had to go to the chairman, Jim Eastland, the senator from Mississippi, to get that done. He was one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and Ted Kennedy was one of the more liberal. And Jim Eastland, I'm sure, did not care a whole lot about whether the military regime in Chile was engaged in human-rights violations, but Ted Kennedy had to go to him to get it done. I remember I waited outside Eastland's office at the end of the day as Kennedy went in to have a scotch or a bourbon with him. I knew what was going on, but I didn't have to be in there -- I'm sure I would've been a detriment had I been in there. And Kennedy came out with the letter I had drafted with Eastland's signature on it. Kennedy just knew how to make the Senate work.

Working for the senator was a pretty intense kind of thing. We worked very, very, very hard, and he was demanding. If he wasn't satisfied, well, you knew. And he worked -- that's the other thing. No matter what the image was of him, he took home the briefcase and read all the memos and commented on the side. You'd get the memo back and take it to somebody who could interpret his scribbling. I realized I was there too long when I could interpret it. But it wasn't a case where you had somebody who just signed off. He was very much involved and worked very hard on the weekends. There was a mad dash to his office every Friday to get the final memo and all the final things into his briefcase for the weekend. He would go through each of them. -- Sara Jerome

Nick Calio

Former legislative affairs director for President George W. Bush

Teddy was a legislator. His main interest always was in trying to get something done, and he would work with anyone and do whatever it took to make it happen.

I remember in 2001, President Bush and Senator Kennedy were working closely together to get bipartisan agreement on the No Child Left Behind education legislation. In a far less visible way, the White House and Kennedy were working behind the scenes to come to an acceptable conclusion on the patients' bill of rights legislation. The debate had been very contentious, and the president had issued a veto threat on the Senate bill sponsored by Senators Kennedy, John McCain, and John Edwards. Innumerable meetings with a large group of senators intended to reach a consensus were leading nowhere fast. We talked to Senator Kennedy and agreed to try to work through the issues with a smaller group to see if we could come up with a consensus bill that we could all then try to sell to our respective constituencies. The talks appeared to go well, and we seemed to have pretty well whittled down most of the major issues among the principals. But whenever the issues were turned over to the respective staffs to be finalized, gridlock set in.

At one point, in the late spring, I ran into Senator Kennedy in the Capitol, and with his usual cheer, he said he thought things were really moving along well. I said, "Well, Ted, actually I don't think so," and told him why. He said, "Let me look into it." Later that day, he called and said, "Look, Nick, here's my idea. I've talked to John [McCain] about it and want you and Josh [Bolten, then the deputy White House chief of staff for policy] to come to my house for breakfast on Sunday so we can talk in total confidence, just the four of us." And for the next five or six Sundays, we got together for breakfast at Teddy's house in Kalorama.

I remember the day of the first breakfast was beautiful and sunny. I was the first to arrive, so Ted showed me around the house pointing out various pictures, telling some stories. The dogs, which I had met in his office a number of times, were around. I got introduced to a niece and some friend. Josh and Senator McCain arrived. We were all dressed casually. It was very relaxed and convivial. We'd sit down on the couches, have coffee and talk for a while, then have breakfast and talk more about the issues. After breakfast, it was back to the couches for more discussion.

The two big gorilla issues were "right to sue" and limitations on liability, and we were making progress even there with a very complex approach to caps. After about three weeks, Ted called and told me that he wanted to bring John Edwards into the group; that he'd need him to sell any agreement to his caucus. He had a major stake in it. I told him I thought it was a mistake but understood.

To make a long story short, we talked and talked but couldn't reach an agreement in the end. With Teddy, there was no rancor, only regret -- very professional -- "We tried but couldn't get there." That was his way. He'd bring people to the table; understood your positions; see if you could come to a meeting of the minds. If you did, it didn't matter who got the credit. If you didn't, it was just business. And, along the way, you always had a lot of fun with him. -- Alexis Simendinger

Barbara Mikulski

Democratic senator from Maryland

I was one of the national co-chairs of his 1980 presidential campaign. And when I came to the Senate in 1986, Teddy helped me get on the Appropriations Committee, which was quite a coup. As the only Democratic woman senator, there were days when the bad jokes and old habits could be a little rough. Teddy and [Democratic Sen. Christopher] Dodd would take me to La Colline to be with the guys. I would be sipping my chardonnay and Teddy would have his orange juice plus. He was like a boxing coach who rubs your back and gets you back in the ring. People know Teddy for his carrying the torch. What they don't know of him is that he was a great support for his colleagues. He would share his own personal energy with you to help you over personal rough spots. -- Bruce Stokes

Cal Thomas

Conservative commentator

We met by accident 26 years ago when, during my only non-journalist incarnation as a vice president of the Moral Majority, the computer mistakenly sent him a Moral Majority membership card.

That was leaked to The Washington Post, and a reporter called me and asked me if I would ask for it back. I said, "No, we don't believe anybody is beyond redemption, and, as a matter of fact, we'd love it if the senator came and visited Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College." They printed that, and everyone had a nice laugh; and a few days later, his chief of staff called me and said, "The senator has decided to accept your invitation." And I said, "What invitation?" "The one to come and speak."

So Falwell's jaw dropped open, but to his great credit, he saw the merit in that, and we had a private dinner at Falwell's house, and I got my second newspaper column out of that called "The Man Who Came to Dinner." He brought along a book signed by his mother, Rose, and it was an incredibly gracious meal. We went over to the university [to give the speech] where there were several thousand students, every network sent a camera, and the newspaper and wire services sent their top people. You can still see it on YouTube.

He spoke on the separation of church and state, said nice things about Falwell, and talked about tolerance and diversity and all those other good things. It was a heck of a speech, and most conservatives would not disagree with most of it. He was gracious, and we struck up a friendship from there.

I've listened to some of the comments by conservatives and radio hosts about Kennedy, and I'm sure all of that is true. But the problem with this town is that people see each other as enemies, and we speak of people being on the other side. Ted and my other liberal friends aren't on the other side. Al Qaeda is on the other side. My fellow Americans don't get up in the morning wondering, "How can I ruin America today?" They believe their principles will make America better, and if we start by asking them that, we can have a legitimate debate about facts, human nature, and costs to make America better. No, he didn't act that way when Judge Bob Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court. He wasn't perfect. Only God is good, and the rest of us are sinners. I'm not going to get into who is good and who are sinners, but the Bork thing was Kennedy at his most partisan.

He was an excellent politician, and that is not said disparagingly. He would be kind and deferential to people when he was not in the majority in order to move his agenda forward. The problem for a lot of conservatives is that they were so taken in by his aura that they often got their ideological pockets picked. He was very good at that; that's why [Republican Sen.] Orrin Hatch and he were so close -- Orrin would give him a lot of stuff. People wanted to bask in the Kennedy aura. All of us of a certain age lived through that -- the "vigah," the children under the desk, the horror of the assassinations, and this royalty was part of our growing up and our families. It's a cliche, but it's true. Republicans could not pick his pockets as effectively because they did not have the aura that his magical name carried. -- Neil Munro

Tony Podesta

Former Kennedy campaign aide

I first met Ted Kennedy when I was handling scheduling for George McGovern in 1972 and he was a major surrogate of McGovern's. Later, I was hired by Kennedy for his 1980 presidential campaign, and I was in charge of advance for him and his family.

The story that I don't think is well known about Kennedy is his involvement in the Supreme Court nomination fight of Judge Robert Bork.

On July 1, 1987, President Reagan nominated Bork to the Supreme Court. The day before, I had left my job as president of People for the American Way and was planning to go on vacation to recharge in Europe. But on July 3, I got a call from Kennedy saying: "Tony, this guy Bork. We have to stop him. Can you come in and talk to me?" Kennedy viewed Bork as a real threat to the Constitution, to civil rights, and to civil liberties, and he wanted to do everything in his power to prevent him from getting on the Supreme Court.

So, I ended up spending the next several months of that summer in round-the-clock meetings with Kennedy and his Senate Judiciary Committee counsel, Jeff Blattner and Carolyn Osolinik, and it wasn't like he left it at the legal theory or questioning of Bork's opinions or comments. We ended up running a sort of grassroots political campaign to build a huge coalition of people to oppose Bork. We had the usual suspects on board, like the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the women's rights groups.

But we didn't leave it at that. We called in the environmental groups to try to get them interested in this, and then my fondest memory is the work he did to reach out to the ministers. Kennedy went off to Hyannis, which he dearly loved, and he asked me to come up for three or four days to the Cape to their house. Over those next few days, we called every African-American minister that we could find in any of the states where it wasn't clear if we were going to hold the Democratic senators' vote on Bork. In those days, there were still a few Democrats in the South, like John Breaux and Bennett Johnston from Louisiana, and it wasn't clear what they were going to do. We just sat around and called ministers. I'd get a minister on the phone and then Kennedy would do the pitch. We spent hours sitting in his home dialing up anyone who would give us some influential flock who would be willing to call their senators to try to convince the more conservative Southern senators to defeat Bork. Eventually, the senators came around in part because this was such an electric issue in the African-American community -- which may never have happened but for Ted Kennedy making those calls. -- Bara Vaida

David Sutphen

Former Kennedy general counsel on the Judiciary Committee

I worked on a bipartisan, Kennedy-Hatch, religious liberties bill that ultimately passed the House and the Senate with unanimous consent. It brought together an unusual and diverse coalition, including the likes of the Christian Legal Society, a very conservative group; an Orthodox Jewish organization; the Mormon Church; the ACLU; and the Human Rights Campaign. It was the quintessential example of strange bedfellows.

After the bill passed Congress, Senator Kennedy invited me to join him at the White House signing ceremony. That same day, somebody from Massachusetts was in town to see the senator, so Kennedy said to the guy, "Why don't you just come to the ceremony?"

All of us pile into the famous minivan, along with Splash, the senator's dog. We get to the White House, and we're at the front gate, and the senator grabs Splash and starts bringing him into the White House. Me and the guy look at each other like, "He's not going to bring the dog into the Oval Office, right?"

So the senator's got Splash, and we walk into the Oval Office. I'm standing there thinking, "Please don't let the senator give me the dog. I don't want to be the Kennedy staffer standing in the Oval Office holding Splash's leash." And luckily, he gave it to the guy visiting from Massachusetts. This poor guy, who I'm sure was some influential person, is standing in the Oval Office holding the dog as the senator makes the rounds.

As Kennedy works the room, Splash starts barking. President Clinton was still in his study, and the White House staffers are freaking out that there's this dog barking in the Oval Office. They're going, "You've got to tell your boss he's got to do something about the dog."

I go over to the senator and I tell him, "Senator, they're really concerned about Splash barking." The senator goes over and says, "Splash, relax; I'm just talking to people, behave." So, of course, the dog gets quiet for 30 seconds and then starts barking again.

At this point we have to escort Splash out the side door. And Clinton comes in and says, "Was there a dog in here or something?" And everyone, including the senator, shrugs with that guilty kind of look.

It just showed that no matter how serious the circumstances were, the senator always had that youthful, playful side to him. And that rare combination is part of what made him so charming. -- Sara Jerome

The Rev. Jim Wallis

President and executive director, Sojourners

You remember after the election of 2004, there was a great press hullabaloo about how Democrats had lost the, quote, moral values voter. That was a tough narrative for Democrats. The first Democrat to call me was Ted Kennedy. He invited me over, not to the office but to his house. It wasn't about politics. It was an evening about faith; each of us talked about our faith in personal ways. He and Vicki were sharing how this whole conversation was painful to them because they were Catholics and they were serious Catholics. They were wondering how the Democratic Party had come to be perceived as hostile to faith. I was quite impressed with how personally they talked about their faith but also how articulate they were about theology. We talked long into the night about all those issues. We'd met before but never had a long conversation.

It wasn't anything about how to re-message the party. It was about how we really have to bring that moral dimension, that moral undergirding to our public discourse. He said, "My faith guides me and sustains me. Maybe I need to be more explicit about that. How can you be more explicit about your own convictions without seeming to be sectarian?" It was that kind of wrestling conversation. He was very committed to that separation of church and state. He was wrestling with a lot of those questions. New Englanders tend not to, as they say, wear their religion on their sleeve. He was reflecting that cultural tradition, too. What impressed me was how deeply his faith affected him.

I think he did become a little more comfortable expressing his faith after that. There were Democrats who all of a sudden got religion after that experience of 2004. But for Ted Kennedy it was, How can I appropriately express the faith that is within me? -- Brian Friel

Cecelia Munoz

White House director of intergovernmental affairs and former National Council of La Raza senior vice president

The day in 2007 when the immigration reform bill went down in the Senate was a tough day for the people who had been working for years and years on this effort. Senator Kennedy invited the advocates who had worked on this bill to a celebration that day. He booked a room in a restaurant, and we all got calls saying come. So we came. And there he was. There was terrific food and wine, and it was a celebration. He hugged everybody. There were lots of tears. But he was also -- it's hard to describe -- he was relishing the fight. The message he was sending us was, "OK, we are not done. You know, it didn't work out this time, but we are not done. We are dusting ourselves off, and we are celebrating the fact that we are in this fight, because it's not over." He told war stories about funny things that happened in the negotiations with Senator McCain and the White House people. So we swapped stories, and there was laughter and there were tears, but it was not a wake. It was a celebration.

What I learned that day was that he could see these things through the arc of history. He would say things like, "You know, when we were negotiating the Civil Rights Act, we locked ourselves in a room and it took us 12 hours. This process is ridiculous compared to that. And that was the Civil Rights Act, so we should be able to do better!" He told great war stories, and he encouraged us to tell our stories. But most importantly, it helped me to see that your losses are as important as your victories. And he understood, because of his career and how much he had seen, that as devastating as it is to lose, that's part of what you do in the fight. The point is to celebrate being in the fight and relish it.

I have a note on my wall in my White House office that Senator Kennedy sent me after the cloture vote failed. One of the lines on the note says, "We didn't complete the journey, but we'll get there." And I believe that. I learned to take joy in the fight that day. -- Alexis Simendinger

Dick Gephardt

House Democrat from Missouri, 1977-2005

I never met anybody in Congress or the White House with such an avid interest in solving problems and getting things done. After we lost the House in 1994, I had a lot of Democrats who didn't want to get things done with Republicans. They would come to me and criticize Kennedy for wanting to move legislation, such as his proposal with Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum to improve health insurance coverage. I told my members that we had to help him and that he was doing the right things. He also was severely criticized by some for cooperating with Republicans in 2001 on the No Child Left Behind Act. With Kennedy, good policy was always good politics.

As minority leader, I talked to him a lot. That would give me a sense of what could be done in Congress. He had endless energy, and there was no end to his desire to get things done. He was the Energizer Bunny.

I worked very closely with his son, Representative Patrick Kennedy, whom I tasked to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Their relationship was unique. Ted had a great sense of humor. Around Patrick, he was always kidding him and putting him on. Patrick always talks about solving problems, including mental health. He gets that from his father. -- Richard E. Cohen

Stuart Eizenstat

President Carter's chief domestic policy adviser

After the 1980 election, Senator Kennedy called me up and said there is a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit and he wanted the president to nominate Stephen Breyer, who had worked with me on airline and trucking deregulation. To say the least, feelings were very raw at that point. We had lost the election to Ronald Reagan. Feelings were raw toward Reagan; they were raw toward Senator Kennedy [who had challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination]. There was just a feeling of despondency.

You had the additional fact that Republicans had won not only the presidential election but had turned over the Senate in the Reagan landslide, so they were going to be in control of the Senate in January. Why would Republicans allow this nomination in a post-election session? Why would they cooperate? Why wouldn't they just filibuster?

It turned out that Senator Kennedy and Senator Thurmond, who would be taking over the Judiciary Committee as chairman in January, had a very good personal relationship. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more conservative senator than Strom Thurmond, but Strom liked Kennedy and he liked Steve Breyer [who had earlier served as the Judiciary Committee's chief counsel], and Strom had agreed, remarkably, to support Steve.

Now, I had the unenviable job of going to the president and trying to persuade the president to do Senator Kennedy a favor under these circumstances. It was with, I would say, more than mild trepidation that I did so. The argument I used with the president was: "Look, you are not really doing Senator Kennedy a favor; you are doing Steve Breyer a favor." It was Steve's skill as much as anyone else's that had been responsible for airline and trucking deregulation, which Carter had pushed. I had worked closely with him. He is and was one of the finest minds and people that I have ever worked with. I mean, just a class guy as fine as silk to work with as a human being but also just remarkably smart. I thought that he would be a great judge and that it would be a great tribute to President Carter to be able to swallow the political pill that this meant and to show that he could rise above it.

Those were the arguments I used. They, remarkably, were successful. Steve, I am sure will tell you, wouldn't be on the Supreme Court today, probably, had it not been for that. Of course, Senator Kennedy didn't call Hamilton [Jordan, White House chief of staff]. He called me because he knew that I was likely -- even after all of this -- to be the most sympathetic and the person on the staff that he had the closest personal relationship with.

It shows me two things about Senator Kennedy. First of all, his political determination, knowing he was likely to be turned down. Second, the fact that he had already lined up Strom Thurmond, who had no reason to agree to this; Strom wanted Republicans named by Reagan, who was coming in in January.

Why shouldn't Reagan, from Strom Thurmond's standpoint, have that vacancy on the 1st Circuit? Why let a more liberal judge be named by a Democratic president? That speaks volumes. You find a better anecdote in all the research you do, and I'll buy you the best steak in town. Senator Kennedy was able to get Strom Thurmond, who was about to take over as chairman, and deny Ronald Reagan an early conservative judge on a very important circuit. But Strom's respect for Kennedy and for Steve was such that Strom agreed. -- Kirk Victor

John Podesta

President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and former White House chief of staff to President Clinton

During the Clinton presidency, the senator would come in -- we'd have meetings in the Oval Office on some specific issue -- and he would invariably come in with a list of things he wanted done. The meeting would generally be about some piece of legislation that was stalled and he had an idea about how to get it going forward, but there were always three or four other ticks on his list. He carried a 3-by-5 card in his pocket, which, of course, he never referenced. He and I were good friends. When he would go through his list, he always knew in depth more than anyone else in the room. He would know more than the staff people who were there with him, and he would know more than the staff people who were with the president. So he'd go through in granular detail every request that he wanted to make. But just in case he'd forgotten anything, whenever we walked out the door, he'd hand me that 3-by-5 card: "Here, just make sure you attend to all of this." Then I would take the cards back and we'd work down the list of things he had made requests about.

Sometimes the things that are said too often are also true. I just think he loved his job. I would marvel at the fact that after doing it for more than 40 years, there was never a moment, there was never a day -- all this stuff [in the past year] about his sitting in Hyannis Port and calling his staff and telling them what to do -- is just a reflection of the fact that he completely loved doing what he was doing. And he never really lost sight of who he was doing it for. -- Alexis Simendinger

Patrick Leahy

Democratic senator from Vermont

After Pope John Paul II died, a delegation of us went over -- a group of all the Catholic senators. Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, myself. The majority leader, Bill Frist, was also there because he was thinking about running for president at the time.

We stopped over in Dublin. There was a reception. They love the Kennedys there. They served all this food. We were drinking Irish coffee.

Ted started talking about Irish history. He'd say, "That was March of 1605.... That happened in 1850." There was this guy waiting on us, and Kennedy kept looking at him after he said these things. And [the waiter would] say, "'Tis correct. 'Tis exactly correct. It is surely remarkable how well you know your Irish history, Senator Kennedy."

Finally, I looked at him and said, "Why do you keep agreeing with him? He's making this stuff up. He has no idea what he's talking about."

He says to me, "Senator, if a Kennedy says it, it's a fact." -- Dan Friedman

Tad Devine

A Democratic media consultant who first worked for Kennedy in his 1994 re-election campaign

He was the best politician I ever met in my life.

Going back to the '94 campaign, it's a tough race; Mitt Romney actually pulled ahead in early September. The whole controversy over Romney being a Mormon came up -- basically Joe Kennedy attacked Romney for being a Mormon. Andy Hiller, a Boston TV reporter, sort of got in [Ted] Kennedy's face and asked him about it, and after three or four questions, Teddy's trying not to answer. Finally, he said something that implied that the Mormon Church discriminated against women. And when you start talking about something like that, it's on the table.

Romney, to his credit, recognized that we had made this mistake and went out and bemoaned the fact that the brother of President Kennedy, who had faced questions about his religion, would now be bringing this up in the campaign. Romney played it out well, and we are now in the bunker on this. I remember a conference call. I was in a studio in Philadelphia making a commercial; Kennedy's on the phone, John Sasso, Bob Shrum, and Paul Donovan, his Senate chief of staff. Basically what we were telling him is, "You've got to go retract the statement you made on television. We've got to end this. This is not a nuance deal, this is black and white." So Shrum says that, I say that, Sasso says that, and he was getting mad at us and at one point he says, "Are you guys telling me I've got to put my tail between my legs and go out there?" He didn't say it in a friendly way, either. And Shrum said, "That's exactly what we're telling you." And he just went out there and did it. The thing about him -- you have a strategy, he'd carry it out. -- James A. Barnes

Sandy Kress

Senior education adviser to President George W. Bush during negotiations over the No Child Left Behind Act

He always thought it was funny that I started life as a Boston Red Sox fan and he knew that I love the Texas Longhorns. I was basically commuting this whole time, and I would go home to Austin on weekends. And one Saturday afternoon my cellphone rings and it's Ted Kennedy, just out of the blue, and he says to me, "Are you watching the game? Are you watching the game?"

I said, "Senator, what game would that be?"

He says, "Well, the Boston College-Miami game, of course!"

I told him, "Senator, we don't get the game down here." So he's watching it and describing it to me, and he's like, "They're going to ... they're going to ... oh, noooooo!" because Boston College was on the three- or four-yard line, about to win the game, and then they threw an interception. Miami was first in the country at the time and I think Texas was second or third, so he's thinking that if Boston College won, that would be great for him; and if Miami lost, it would be great for me. He knew that it would be a big thing for us for Miami to lose.

I don't know what was more telling, that he's so Boston-centric that he would think that everyone is watching the Boston College game, or that he thinks that I'm watching and he wanted to share the moment with me, a moment that goes from joy to total misery. It was so endearing. -- Lisa Caruso

Bob Kerrey

Democratic senator from Nebraska, 1989-2001

The moment for me that captures Ted Kennedy the best occurred over a period of about one hour. I got a phone call from three people, back-to-back: Edgar Bronfman Jr. [CEO of Warner Music Group], Jack Valenti [the late president of the Motion Picture Association of America], and Lew Wasserman [the late chairman of Music Corporation of America]. Now, I don't care what you do to me, I'm still a kid from Nebraska. I went to a land-grant college. I didn't hang out in New Haven and all that.

So, anyway, I take three back-to-back phone calls from these guys. "All we want is for Ted Kennedy to return our phone calls," they say. And they wouldn't tell me what it was about. I said to Valenti, whom I knew the best of the three, "Jack, for God's sakes, you know Teddy better than I do."

"I know, but he won't return my calls."

So I saw Kennedy on the floor and I said, "Look, I don't care, I really don't care if you call them back, but if you do, it'd be nice if you told them it was because of me. But what the hell is going on?"

"Oh," he said, "they just about a year earlier negotiated an international treaty on intellectual property, and we were writing the enabling legislation in the Judiciary Committee," of which he was a member. It was ready to be conferenced and sent to the House and Senate for final passage.

Kennedy said, "I ran into a guy the other night and he wrote [the movie] Casablanca. He tells me these guys are screwing him in this treaty." So, he said, "I wrote it down on a piece of paper and I took it down to my staff the other day and I had them prepare a little amendment. I walked over to Strom Thurmond and said, 'Strom, would you help me out with this thing?' And he accepted the amendment."

So after all this stuff, Kennedy went to bat for some guy who was getting the shaft. One guy getting the shaft and he would go to the wall for you. Everybody knew it, by the way. Everybody knew that you couldn't buy him. -- Kirk Victor

David Nexon

Kennedy's health care aide for more than 20 years

Kennedy was pretty bold. He'd forge ahead when other people were scared. He said to me that there were always a thousand reasons not to do something, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. We finally passed FDAMA [the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act] in 1997, and we started it in '95 with the Gingrich takeover of Congress. They wanted to gut the FDA, thought it was an impediment for progress. Kennedy went to the mat on this. By delaying and arguing and blustering and negotiating and mounting a major PR campaign, and writing inflammatory letters to The New York Times, all but two provisions were compromised in a way that was satisfactory to us. And the question was whether to keep fighting or declare victory and go home. Kennedy decided he would fight. He filibustered the thing. He was on the floor for three days. The staff was in the back room coming up with ways to keep it going.

One issue was federal pre-emption of state regulation of cosmetics. Kennedy kept coming up with all these examples and dangers with cosmetics and why it shouldn't be unregulated. It made the front page of Women's Wear Daily. And then the Republicans backed off. The industry went to the guys in the Senate who were carrying water for them and said to back off, that Kennedy was doing more damage with the floor debates and stories than any benefit they could get. -- Marilyn Werber Serafini

John Barrasso

Republican senator from Wyoming

The day I got sworn into the Senate, June 25, 2007, to my knowledge he was the only Democrat -- well, somebody would have been in the chair presiding -- who was there in the chamber for my swearing in. I had a lot of family members up in the gallery, and as I was walking out with Mike Enzi and Malcolm Wallop, former senator from Wyoming, there was this booming voice saying, "Senator, senator."

I figured they weren't talking to me. Then I felt this hand on my shoulder and turned around and heard, "Hi, I'm Ted Kennedy." Very loud. Of course, everybody in the gallery who had come to see me get sworn in knew exactly who he was. He said it loud enough that the whole place could hear it. They broke out in joyous laughter. "Of course we all know who you are, senator." The lion of the Senate.

He talked about being in Wyoming when John Kennedy was running for president and he was working Wyoming while John was running. He had gone to Rock Springs and he knew the names of all of the people from Wyoming -- now, we are talking 47 years later from the 1960 race. He was mentioning one after another after another -- the leaders of the Democrat Party of Wyoming of 1960 and here we are in 2007.

Later, they had a little reception for me and he came to that and he was the only Democrat there. And he spent a long time with my son, Peter, and my daughter, Emma, who were both in college. He said, "So you're the brother, you're the sister -- you know, I had some brothers." He was talking about John and Robert and Joe. He said it is good to work closely with your family. He said, "Why don't you come to my office and I'll show you some pictures of my brothers and my family?"

Then we went to his office in the Russell Building and he must have spent half an hour with Peter and Emma and me going over the pictures, with Papa Joe and Rose and the Kennedy kids and different letters that were written. I think he enjoyed it as much as we did, but for us it was an incredible lesson in history and an incredible welcome to the Senate. I think Ted Kennedy may still be my daughter's favorite senator -- more than me! -- Kirk Victor

John Warner

Republican senator from Virginia, 1979-2009; former secretary of the Navy

I sailed with Ted many times in Cape Cod and off Martha's Vineyard. Of course, I was the crew and he was the captain. I remember him racing a big ferry for the right of way one time, with the ferry captain blowing his horn like mad and Ted never giving way. Another time we were sailing out of harbor with our families aboard, and Ted started to race one of his nephews in another boat. Ted took his boat to about 6 inches of his nephew's and braced him practically into the shoreline to get the edge. It was all in fun, but he was competitive that way.

Once we were both guests on a large sailboat built back in the 1920s, and while we were sailing off of Nantucket a big gale blew up that you wouldn't believe. The wind got so bad that the mast split, but old Ted swung into action and really helped the captain bring that ship safely back to port. He was just a colorful guy, and he loved colorful people.

What I remember most vividly is Ted's voice. On the Senate floor we have these little microphones, but Ted never needed them. His voice just rattled the chandeliers. There was no snoozing when Ted was speaking, and we had fun debating many issues together. The thing I think a lot of us will miss most is that strong voice. -- James Kitfield

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