Ted Kennedy: A Personal Reminiscence

By Gorman Gorman

Aug 26, 2009 4:52pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: When the call came into my cell phone, from a Cape Cod number I didn't recognize, I let it go to voice mail. I ended up being glad I didn't answer, since this was one message worth saving. Checking the message a few minutes later, I heard the best Ted Kennedy impersonation ever: "Hey-a Rick, uh, Ted Kennedy. Just, uh, calling to wish you a happy birthday, and a happy Thanksgiving. See you back down in Washington soon." I had screened out a call from the senior senator of Massachusetts. I dialed back immediately and got an operator at the Kennedy compound — who patched me through to the senator. We had a 10-minute conversation as I drove between Washington and New York that fall morning. We talked about nothing earth-shattering — the size of the turkey Vicki bought, the chances of immigration reform passing the Senate, the new Ugg boots the senator was wearing in Hyannis. He had taken the time to call me, then a reporter for The Boston Globe covering Congress, just to chat. He surely made tens of thousands of calls just like that over the years, to people inside or outside his direct orbit. Clearly there was political benefit to making such connections, particularly with reporters covering his work in the Senate. But Kennedy always seemed to enjoy that part of politics. Almost every conversation he had in his adult life was with someone less famous, or less influential, than he was. Yet when talking to him, he projected intense interest in every detail of the conversation. Far more than his brothers, he was the heir to the legacy of John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, his famously affable grandfather who was Boston's first Irish-Catholic mayor. I once saw him stop a group of wide-eyed, pointing tourists in the Capitol, to ask if they wanted pictures with him. (They did.) Kennedy thrived on political gossip. He asked about my dog. He got deals done with his colleagues by knowing the names of their dogs, too. For a serious man, he never took himself particularly seriously. He had a conference room in his Senate office filled with political cartoons featuring him. That was hardly an ego trip: few of the cartoons depicted him in a positive manner. Mayor Quimby, from "The Simpsons," was featured prominently. Every year, he held a holiday party that featured an elaborate skit that he would appear in, along with his wife. He invited current and former staffers, members of the press corps, friends — and showed up in say, a gorilla costume the year "King Kong" game out, or a penguin suit when "March of the Penguins" was big. My lasting memory of the senator is at his 75th birthday party at his home in Washington. Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton were there, shortly before the Democratic presidential primary battle began. Senators mingled with ambassadors and Kennedy cousins. Deep into the night, as most guests made their way home, Kennedy was standing near the piano, belting out old Irish songs. And laughing. I had more on remembering Kennedy on today's "World News Webcast."

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