Kennedy Left An Impression In A Thousand Little Ways

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All of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's influence in Washington could be matched by his influence in Massachusetts. In often little known ways, Kennedy helped many individuals, institutions, and important projects in the commonwealth. A tireless supporter of dozens of causes, he was also the "go-to" man to get things done.

Kennedy used his influence in many places, sometimes unlikely ones. The Boston Children's Museum was one of the many recipients of Ted Kennedy's attention. He came to the yearly fundraising breakfast and helped secure federal funds for projects large and small.

"He has that way of getting to the heart of what you do and supporting what you do and listening to what kinds of alliances you want and think are going to work, and he a wealth of knowledge," said Lou Casagrande, the museum's president.

Kennedy's influence in the U.S. Senate secured federal funds to create a program that allows more than 2,000 kids in Boston's Head Start program to visit the museum free and to train their teachers. Casagrande remembers Kennedy's energy and enthusiasm.

"I got a call, and I still have the message on my cell phone. I'll keep it forever," Casagrande said. "10:30 at night — he called me, and he just left a message on my cell phone giving us some good news about a federal grant. But it was like a friend calling, and he was so excited. 'Lou, Lou, how ya doing? Guess what!' He was not looking for credit, you know, there was not a press release put out."

Like Casagrande, many local community leaders have calls from Kennedy saved on their phones. They are equally impressed by his passion and commitment. Longtime friend and former Democratic Party state chairman Steve Grossman says while Kennedy wasn't involved in state politics, he was deeply involved in many state causes.

"If you ask anybody who is the 'go-to' person in Massachusetts when you want to get something done that will help Massachusetts, that will help a mayor, that will help a school committee, that will help a factory in danger of closing, Ted Kennedy is the one you go to," Grossman says. "He's the 'go-to' guy."

Kennedy helped to get the Boston Harbor Islands named a national park, and to pass Massachusetts' landmark universal healthcare legislation. Peter Meade, a Boston civic leader and the former head of Blue Cross Blue Shield, says Kennedy was key to bringing people together for the state's healthcare legislation.

"The phone calls he made, the working in the legislature, the prodding, pushing, suggesting for the law in Massachusetts," Meade said.

Kennedy also had a hand in historic preservation. The Longfellow House in Cambridge approached Kennedy several years ago when it needed $3 million to be brought up to fire code. Kennedy called on his colleague, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who often quotes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in speeches on the Senate floor. Together, they arranged federal funding.

The Kennedy family has always been known for its commitment to public service. So in 1989, when Michael Brown started City Year, the youth service corps program that was a model for AmeriCorps, one of the first people he went to see was Kennedy.

Immediately, it was clear Sen. Kennedy saw something like City Year and more largely national service as something that just embodied his very being," Brown said.


Brown says Kennedy was a tireless supporter who didn't turn his attention on and off.

"We would go see Sen. Kennedy sometimes in formal settings in his office. I would often run into him on the shuttle, and he'd always wave me over, and he'd want to talk about big idea of national service but also the strategies. 'How do we move it forward? What else are you working on?' "

Brown says he was touched when he saw Kennedy wearing his red City Year jacket when he went sailing just after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

POLITICALLY, ONE OF KENNEDY'S GREATEST accomplishments on the local stage came in 2004.

KENNEDY: To my fellow delegates and my fellow Democrats, I've waited a very, very long time to say this: Welcome to my hometown.

Grossman, the Democratic Party leader, says Kennedy worked hard to bring the convention to Boston.

"Other than the mayor, nobody wanted this more than Ted Kennedy," Grossman said. "And when Ted Kennedy got you on the phone and began to tell you how important this was to city for all kinds of reasons and important to Massachusetts, and important to our growth and our development — nobody says no to Ted Kennedy."

But Ted Kennedy didn't always get his way on the Senate floor. He was in the minority voting against the war in Iraq, a vote he said was one of his most important.

But his opposition to the war didn't prevent him from becoming deeply engaged with people who were affected by it. Kennedy developed a lasting connection to Brian and Alma Hart of Bedford, whose son, Army Private First Class John Hart, was killed in Iraq in October 2003.

"We developed a working relationship when we couldn't find John's body, and his staff was able to track it down in the most unusual way, but we did find it," Hart said.

Kennedy met the Harts at their son's funeral and listened to their concerns that John was killed because his Humvee lacked armor. Brian Hart remembers that, on the spot, Kennedy promised to do something about it.

"Basically, Sen. Kennedy told us that he would look into the matter, and later in November he held the first congressional hearings on the lack of body armor and vehicular armor," Hart said. "And that opened up the whole issue of the too-little-too-late procurement strategy that cost hundreds of people their lives."

Since then, Hart worked with Kennedy on dozens of measures securing additional safety equipment for U.S. troops. He calls him an excellent legislator — and a friend. Hart remembers a time he was visiting Washington and planned to go the cemetery where his son John is buried.

"I tried to go to Arlington and visit John in Section 60 with the other young men and women that have been killed in this conflict," Hart said. "Sen. Kennedy and his wife found out about it and drove me there. We stayed in Section 60 for 45 minutes, and we walked down the rows of each of the solders that had died in this conflict, some of which we knew, some of whom he knew."

Kennedy also helped reverse the orders of a soldier set to deploy to Iraq after she married a man with three children whose wife died of cancer. And he was touched by a letter from a constituent asking for help for an Iraqi child wounded by U.S. troops. He found a philanthropist to pay for the boy's treatment and a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital to oversee his care.

ANOTHER LASTING IMPRESSION KENNEDY MADE on the city of Boston was the Rose Kennedy Greenway, named after his mother. Sitting on a bench in the downtown park, longtime Kennedy friend and Greenway advocate Peter Meade remembers the senator's key role in creating the conservancy that manages the downtown park complex.

"Frankly, what happened is [what] Sen. Kennedy does often with legislation: He forced people to get together, set a deadline, and got it done," Meade said.

Kennedy contributed money, fundraising, clout and connections to make the park work. At the dedication in 2004, Kennedy talked about how happy his mother would have been to see the park.

KENNEDY: I always remember my mother and my grandfather talking about growing up in the North End as they were children: There was never any grass for the children to go out and play. There was never any grass — well, there's going to be grass. There's going to be grass right behind me and all the way down this greenway.

He closed the park's dedication by breaking into song, something he did on many occasions. This time it was his mother's favorite, "Sweet Rosie O'Grady."

Sen. Ted Kennedy's singing was not on pitch, but he often had perfect pitch when it came to people and politics.

This program aired on August 26, 2009.


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