Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC News' Claire Shipman at the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate to talk about her late husband, his legacy and his impact on US politics.
"You know, Teddy loved three things, well more than three things. He loved life. But he loved history, he loved education and he loved the United States Senate," Vicki told us. Because of that, part of Kennedy's legacy is the new institute built in his name. "He was so keen on preserving records for history."
"What he wanted was for people to understand, for a new generation of citizens to be in engaged and to understand our government," continued Vicki. "When he was 14 years old…his brother, President Kennedy, then newly elected Congressman Jack Kennedy, took him around Washington and showed him all the buildings. At the end of that tour he turned to Teddy and said, 'It's great that you love these buildings, Teddy. But take an interest in what happens inside.' That was seared in Teddy's memory."
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a nonpartisan institution that seeks to encourage people to take an interest in, and to engage in, politics. It is "dedicated to educating the public about our government, invigorating public discourse, encouraging participatory democracy, and inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the public square," according to its website. The center breaks ground on April 8, 2011, following an Inaugural Gala in Massachusetts, the heart of the Kennedy dynasty, tonight.
"I just think that I was the luckiest -- am the luckiest woman on the planet," Vicki told ABC News. "Because I met the love of my life. And he made me so happy. I feel like I was the lucky one. We were so happy. We laughed. We loved life. We had this incredible, wonderful life together with this incredible, wonderful -- wonderful family. So I feel pretty lucky."
And their first date? "He was fun. That really is why I found him -- he was fun. And easy to be with. I mean I certainly wasn't falling in love with him the first time I met him. I just went out with him because he was fun. And he made me laugh. I thought, 'Oh, this is great. Nothing serious.'" But it didn't take long for her to fall deeply in love, "somewhere along the line I fell madly in love with him and thought if he didn't ask me to marry him I'd probably keel over and die. "
"I wondered sometimes how he found time to do all the things that he did, but he made time. He always made me feel that I was important and worth the time. I think that's an enormous quality. He always carved out time for us to be together."
Even in the storied history of the Kennedys, the last few years have taken a particularly tragic toll. "We lost Eunice and Teddy within two weeks of each other. We've just lost Sarge Shriver, you know, in the last couple of months. So there's a, you know, generation that is missing. We feel that loss very acutely. And that's just the reality."