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A Big Thank You to a Fighter: Remembering Ted Kennedy

August 27, 2009

I may be a Canadian but Ted Kennedy’s death has caused me to pause and do some reflecting. Kennedy’s passing leaves a massive hole in American politics, one that will not be filled for a very long time. Regardless of political stripe, one would have to be from another planet not to appreciate Kennedy’s love for his country; his never-ending optimism – that tomorrow will be better – his relentless push for civil, women’s and consumer rights; his fight against the Vietnam war; and his long crusade for healthcare for all Americans.

Ted Kennedy’s rise to that of an internationally respected individual and Senator is a fascinating story. Here was a young man who lived in the shadows of his older brothers, John and Robert; a guy who was kicked out of Harvard for cheating, a well-known party lover; and jock. His father, Joe Kennedy, didn’t want to see Ted excluded from politics so he arranged for a Senate seat to be held until Ted reached 30 years of age, the minimum age to serve. Now, 47 years later, Ted Kennedy has the distinction of being one of the longest serving senators in American history. And man, what a ride he had!

I like how former presidential counsellor and speech writer Ted Sorensen expressed it. (Sorensen is most famous for writing these words: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country). Sorensen said that while many people fade away as they get older and lose their effectiveness, not so with Ted Kennedy. He grew as an individual and as a politician, honing his incredible negotiating and relationship building skills, always working for a better America.

CNN ran an excellent special on Ted Kennedy last night. There was footage from the early 1960s I had never seen before showing Ted, Bobbie and John in a variety of family scenes, as well as political events. But the most searing moment was film footage following Bobbie’s 1968 assassination. It showed the tens of thousands of Americans who lined up beside the rail track on which the train carrying Bobbie’s body passed on its way to Arlington Cemetery. People stood at attention, many with their hands over their hearts.

With Ted Kennedy now gone, who will carry forward the flame of striving for a better America? No one particular comes to mind. President Obama, despite possessing certain gifts and being publicly endorsed by Ted Kennedy last year, has risen very quickly in politics and not paid his dues like Kennedy. With age comes knowledge and wisdom, and perhaps most importantly experience from learning from failures. Ted Kennedy never gave up. His perseverance and leadership should be a lesson for those who seek to make change in society.

Other obituaries:

The Economist

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