By H. Jack Geiger, MD
Professor Emeritus of Community Medicine,
City University of New York Medical School
I first met Ted Kennedy in the summer of 1966, at one of the earliest moments in his interest in health care, when he came to Columbia Point to visit our recently opened community health center--the first in the nation to open its doors, along with its sister health center in Mound Bayou in the Mississippi Delta. He spent that entire afternoon at the health center, talking with me, with our physicians, community organizers, nurses and social workers, and most frequently of all with our patients. He grasped the basic concepts--and their potential for poor and vulnerable populations everywhere in the nation--instantly.
He asked me to meet him that evening at a downtown Boston hotel to talk further about those ideas. In two hours of conversation, we sketched out the basic content of the legislation he would go back to the Senate to write, moving community health centers from a handful of research
and demonstration projects to a full-fledged program of "The War on Poverty" with an initial appropriation of 50 million dollars to launch more CHCs across the country. He was excited and joyful at the prospect of spearheading this new idea.
What I remember best about that evening occurred just as we were wrapping it up. He learned that my wife had been waiting for me this whole time, upstairs in the lobby. Instantly, he went tearing up two flights of stairs, faster than I could keep up, to find her, thank her for her patience, and tell her next time to join the conversation.
As the community health center program grew and grew, with Ted Kennedy as the leader of a bipartisan Congressional cohort supporting them, I was to meet him again and again, and on other issues as well--the anti-nuclear work of
Physicians for Social Responsibility, and later the work of Physicians for Human Rights, and our joint interests in civil rights. Every time, it was clear that he loved his work, was passionate about his causes, and still, always, loved to laugh. He seemed to me, far more than the Al Smith of the 1920s, to be the happy warrior.
(During the events described, Dr. Geiger was Professor of Community Medicine at Tufts Medical
School and Project Director of those first two health centers.)
This program aired on August 28, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.