The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy lay in repose, occupies a unique place in American life. But it has also become a special place for the Kennedy family, not just in their public presence there, but also in their private life.
To talk about its significance, we spoke to Peter Meade, long-time friend of Ted Kennedy and the founding head of the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Let me ask you about why the library on Columbia Point was such a special place for the senator. What was the attraction for him there, even before the library itself was built?
Well, first off, the folks in Dorchester wanted the library, and there were some uppity folks in Cambridge who thought it was a bad idea. And I think the embrace from the folks from Dorchester meant so much to the Kennedy family, particularly to Sen. Kennedy.
The fact that it was on the water and how much the ocean meant to John Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, and I think the whole Kennedy family was part of it. Sen. Kennedy played such a significant role in putting the library together and making sure it was the correct tribute to President Kennedy.
And, as you mentioned, so many events have taken place there where Sen. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy have been there and played an important role, not just on the occasions but on the directions, scope and mission of the library.
When we think of the center of the Kennedy family, I think we often think of that being the Hyannisport compound. But is the center really now the Kennedy Library, do you think?
Well, I think it’s so hard to just create one center and, as you mentioned, the institute named for the senator, that will study the Senate will be part of it, but I don’t think it has just one locus.
What role did the senator hope the institute would play in public life?
He saw it as an educational tool. He wanted the institute to be able to teach young people in particular to be an aid to historians and scholars, but to reflect in some ways his career: hard work, being able to respect other people’s ideas, reaching across the aisle on a regular basis to get things done.
We will have a summer Senate: young people, two senators from each state will come, they’ll debate issues from long ago, but also an issue of today. This year it might, in fact, be health care. Hopefully it’ll be a teaching tool for teachers, educators around the country, and inspire young people to understand our democracy and have enormous respect for the Senate.
Many of those people you talk about lined up Friday morning to honor the senator’s casket as it lay in repose at the Kennedy Library. We’ve been hearing many people — analysts, members of the public — express concern that the loss of Sen. Kennedy is the loss of Massachusetts’ strongest, most effective advocate. Are you worried about that?
Well, this is a man who played the field like Willie Mays, hit like Babe Ruth and pitches like Sandy Koufax — all rolled into one. And yes, I don’t think we’ll see his like again, as Vice President Biden said the other day. We’re not talking about a man who did a very good job, we’re talking about a man whose performance was extraordinary.
State House leaders are considering a bill to appoint a temporary replacement. That might not happen, though. To what extent are you concerned about the political situation going forward?
Well I think it’s hard through this weekend — for those of us who have lost an incredible political leader, and a dear friend — to be thinking about what happens with politics.