Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy in the Valley

My sister-in-law's sister Alison Czelusniak posted this sweet photo on Facebook today of herself as a young girl with Ted Kennedy, marching in the Holyoke Saint Pat's parade, 1987. I have two photos of me and Kennedy that are among my most treasured material possessions.
Reading the comments on his obituary in the New York Times online, I see that many other people feel the way I did about him, like there's been a death in the family. Kennedy was the same age as my late father, and before my dad died two years ago, I liked to look at photos of Kennedy, looking so sincere and robust, and think that he would live for a very long time. By extension, I would think wishfully, so would my dad, a country doctor, who loved that Kennedy was a proponent of universal health care.

My brother Billy and me in Hyannis Port, 2004, a high point of my reporting career. I probably saw Kennedy speak a half dozen times or so at very unglamorous occasions, and he always performed as if he were trying to lead some troops to victory. The University of Massachusetts has him to thank, I would say, for securing the funds to build its slick new Life Sciences Center, at the groundbreaking for which I saw him give one of his animated, unpretentious pep speeches. Once, when I got to sit in the balcony at a Senate hearing I was struck by how industrious he seemed to be. Whenever he spoke at Democratic state conventions, the crowd went crazy.

Springfield Republican photo of Kennedy plane crash in Southampton, 1964. Kennedy, of course, was a real survivor and one of the things he survived was a plane crash in an apple orchard that killed the pilot and a Kennedy aide, in nearby Southampton. (The plane had run out of gas!)
Ten years ago, following the death of JFK Jr in a plane crash, I interviewed people who remembered the earlier crash for a Gazette story. I was surprised to see that the interview I remember the most didn't make the final cut. It was with a nurse who was working at Cooley Dickinson Hospital when Kennedy was brought in. She said he and his then-wife Joan, who invited all the nurses to a tea party, were wonderful. But the hospital staff thought his brother Bobby was arrogant when he told all the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Room that he would be in charge of Ted's care.
A woman named Bertha Pease, who was 85 when I talked to her, recalled all the people who walked by her house to the crash site, saying, "All I could think of was the throngs of people the Bible talks about marching by."

Springfield Republican photo of Kennedy following the 1964 plane crash in Southampton.

In the New York Times obituary, it says Kennedy used the six months he was hospitalized, "suspended immobile in a frame that resembled a waffle iron" -- not at Cooley Dickinson from which he was transferred after three weeks -- to "develop his positions on immigration, health care and civil rights." It proved to be a pivotal time for him. "'I never thought the time was lost,' he said later. 'I had a lot of hours to think about what was important and what was not and about what I wanted to do with my life.'”
And what a remarkable legacy he's left!


  1. Love the pics, Mary, especially the one with you, your brother and Teddy! Thanks for sharing your memories. I hadn't known that Kennedy's plane crashed in the area. -Ann

  2. Thanks for reading, Ann -- and posting the link on Facebook!

  3. Nice post, Mary, I know you've mentioned your high regard for the senator before. Very interesting about his air crash and convalescence.

    He definitely lived up to the Kennedy name...

  4. I learned something new by reading your post about the late Ted Kennedy. I admire your love for your own father, too. I think you are a good person, Mary!
    - Jonathan

  5. Thanks for reading, Tony and Jonathan.

  6. Great post -- I particularly liked the anecdote you chose to end with.

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  8. Great post — these personal remembrances I keep stumbling across about people crossing paths with him say so much more than the official hagiographies. Thanks!