I met Ted Kennedy once.
It was October 25, 2002, the day that Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash.
Jerry and I had rushed over to Wellstone re-election headquarters immediately after hearing on the radio about the crash. We were in a panic of grief and alarm, not knowing yet who else of the Wellstone family and staff, people that we knew, might have been on that plane. The scene at campaign headquarters was surreal -- tears and confusion and TV people parking vans and setting up satellite dishes out in front of the building.
Sometime during that awful afternoon at headquarters, Senator Kennedy appeared -- who knows what he was doing in Minnesota that day? -- along with Walter Mondale and various other political figures, I now forget who. They were there, I guess, to comfort the staff and volunteers, as well to focus their own grieving for a fallen beloved Senator.
Ted Kennedy came over to me and shook my hand, and all I could think of to say was thank you being here. What I remember most from that meeting, though, was the emotion in his eyes -- the sadness, maybe some amount of fear, the connection with the overwhelming loss I was feeling. How I would have loved meeting him under different circumstances, to have a chance to chat with him. There are so many things a political guy of my generation could talk about with him -- his family, his history, our history, his 45 years (so far) in the Senate...
People this week are reflecting on Ted Kennedy after the grim announcement this week of his brain tumor: the last of Joseph Kennedy's sons, the only one to live to have gray hair, the one who became the patriach of the family (and maybe of U.S. politics) as he stood strong while his three older brothers all died violent, untimely deaths. It's hard to think of the difficult future of treatment and uncertainty that he faces. He deserves better than this.