Wednesday, August 26, 2009


August 26, 2009, 4:30 a.m.

Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy
February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009

(brought to you by*)

I have just heard the Kennedy family's announcement that Senator Kennedy died late last night, August 25, 2009.

If you are too young to know the details of his life, they will probably be brought to you at some time during the next week or so. There is no need for me to repeat them here. But I would like to add my own personal comment.

For his tragic death is, for me, a personal as well as a national, political and public policy loss.

It's not like we lived next door to each other, or lunched every day. But our lives did intersect in a variety of ways over the years.

We both came to Washington in 1963. He as a newly-elected U.S. Senator, just barely old enough to meet the Constitutional standard, on the crest of a dramatic campaign victory in a race the pundits swore he would lose. I as a new associate at Covington & Burling, following a Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Hugo Black and a professorship at the University of California Law School (Boalt Hall).

By 1964 I held my first presidential appointment from President Lyndon Johnson, as U.S. Maritime Administrator -- a position to which Ted's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt as the first in that position.

Because of my father's friendship with Carroll Rosenbloom, owner of the Baltimore Colts and a very close family friend of Joseph Kennedy, Dad was brought in after Kennedy's stroke to help with his speech.

Carroll gave my wife and me a standing invitation to the owner's box whenever the Colts were playing in Baltimore (as well as occasionally flying Dad to games elsewhere), and I would sometimes run into Ted there.

On one occasion my wife and I were driving to Florida for a brief vacation. Dad knew that I was going in part to recover from a bout of pneumonia, was concerned about how I was doing, but in that pre-cell-phone age didn't know how to contact me. For some reason he called Carroll, thinking we might have told him our destination, and found him, with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, at the Kennedy Palm Beach home Joseph Kennedy had bought in 1933. "No," Carroll said, he didn't know where we were, but he'd ask Bobby if there was anything he could do. The story told me -- as unbelievable as it sounds -- was that the Attorney General then put the FBI (apparently not overworked that day) on the task of contacting the motels at which we might have been staying. Since we hadn't yet arrived and checked in anywhere, we eluded the FBI as well. But I always appreciated this effort by Bobby, who also put me in one of his speeches on one occasion.

In 1967 Ted Kennedy and I were among the "Ten Outstanding Young Americans" selected by the Jaycees for that distinction and shared the related events in Minneapolis with our wives and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

One of the reasons I chose the Unitarian church as a child was because, after visiting almost all the churches in Iowa City, I discovered that it was the only one that encouraged one's exposure to a variety of religions. Some, on the other hand, would treat such behavior as grounds for excommunication. In the 1970s I was exploring the Catholic church, and found myself at Washington's Holy Trinity, staffed by Jesuits from Georgetown University -- most especially the charismatic Father Jim English. Well into that Catholic immersion I discovered it was also Senator Kennedy's church.

Because I also knew members of his staff and their families other stories have come to me which will simply stay with me.

We continued to run into each other at various events as one does in Washington, and occasionally talked about media issues that challenged his political aspirations. After returning to Iowa in 1980 most of my contact, aside from correspondence, was when he was in the state campaigning.

So, although we were scarcely next door neighbors or poker-playing buddies, it was a personal relationship of sorts. As a result of which his death is a poignant personal matter for me, as well as an enormous political and public policy loss for America, and I hope you will forgive me for sharing these memories in this way this morning.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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