I found myself getting all choked up as I watched Ted Kennedy’s visit to Fenway Park on Opening Day last week. As he circled the stadium in a golf cart, waving to the standing-ovation crowd, I felt a lump in my throat.
This column is from the archives of the Mansfield News. It originally was published April, 16, 2009.
I found myself getting all choked up as I watched Ted Kennedy’s visit to Fenway Park on Opening Day last week. As he circled the stadium in a golf cart, waving to the standing-ovation crowd, I felt a lump in my throat. When he hobbled across the field to the pitcher’s mound to throw out a weak first pitch, I was ready to sob full out.
For lifelong Massachusetts Democrats, Ted Kennedy is simply a part of the landscape, like fresh snow in winter or hot August days on the beach. Personally, I can’t even remember a life without Ted. Growing up in western Massachusetts in a Democratic family, I understood that Ted was our guy from the first moment I became cognizant of governmental representation. All these years later, he’s our guy still.
When it was announced last May that he had a brain tumor, lots of people, distressed by the news, remarked that they felt like Ted was a member of their family. I’ve always felt the same way. The man is as intensely familiar as a cherished uncle.
Equal with the feeling of kinship is the satisfaction and pride born of a lifetime of watching Ted fight the good fight. This is a guy who follows his own values and doesn’t give a hoot who disagrees with him. Following his work as he has tirelessly advocated for liberal causes has brought much contentment to those of us who agree with him.
Born to a life of privilege, Teddy could have opted to live a shallow existence, relaxing on his sailboat and jet-setting around the world. But he didn’t. He’s devoted his life to reaching out a helping hand to those less fortunate than he.
Did he get his start on the coattails of his brother, who was president at the time? Sure he did. He was elected to finish his brother’s term, after all. But that was 47 years ago. Since that time, he’s worked indefatigably on behalf of the little guy.
It would take a hundred times more space than I have here to summarize all his accomplishments in the Senate. Suffice it to say that he’s been a champion for equality and freedom for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and lesbians — pretty much everyone who has needed a voice.
Along the way, he has become virtually synonymous with ultra-liberal causes, and I’m sure that pleases him greatly, while it simultaneously drives his detractors nuts.
Last year, when President Obama was still a candidate for office, he eloquently described Ted’s help in Obama’s own political ascent this way: “He is somebody who battled for voting rights and civil rights when I was a child. I stand on his shoulders.”
On the flip side, those who would seek to reduce civil liberties, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, for example, whose confirmation was successfully blocked by a determined Senator Kennedy, have also felt Ted’s fortitude and resolve.
Has he made mistakes in his life? Of course. Who among us hasn’t? A major pitfall of public life, though, is that a person’s faults are laid bare for all to see, to criticize, to speculate upon, whereas the average person can keep his blunders private.
Leading his private life in the public eye wasn’t something Ted chose; it was part of his heritage. It must have been dreadful to go through his extensive family tragedies with all the world watching, but he has done it with his head held high, all the while persevering with his commitment to the causes he holds dear.
He has long advocated universal health care, a way of fixing the country’s pathetically broken health coverage system. Even now, at age 77 and fighting a brain tumor, the good senator continues to fight for that worthy goal. Obviously, he personally has access to the best health care in the world, yet he keeps on plugging for those who aren’t as fortunate.
When Teddy threw out the ball last week, it was noted that his maternal grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, had thrown out the first pitch in 1912 when he was mayor of Boston. Ted, who reportedly had a close relationship with his grandfather, responded that he planned to be at Fenway to throw out the first ball in the year 2012, to commemorate the event’s centennial. Here’s hoping that’s the case.
I think he’s magnificent.
Deborah Knight Snyder is a longtime correspondent for the Mansfield News, Norton Mirror and Easton Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.