Kennedy 'made Massachusetts larger than it is'

During the past 47 years, Sen. Edward Kennedy kept Massachusetts at the forefront of progressive debate and helped the state set a precedent for the nation on several issues, including civil rights, education and, of course, health care.

"Massachusetts is a little state," Boston City Council President Michael Ross said, "but … (Kennedy's) politics and persona have made Massachusetts larger than it is."

The state's residents proved grateful for this. "I think we know just how blessed we are to have someone of his stature and effectiveness," Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said, without question, Kennedy was "the most beloved elected official in Massachusetts."

His constituents showed their gratitude by making Kennedy the third-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. "I've known a lot of people in politics and I've met with four or five presidents," said Jack Wilson, the president of the University of Massachusetts. "I was impressed, but when it comes to work ethic, I don't think anybody can beat Teddy Kennedy."

Patrick said Kennedy's work ethic showed through his constant availability and accessibility. "There have been more than a few phone calls in the car with him shouting over the sound of the dogs in the back," Patrick said, also noting that Kennedy had even called from his car on his way to the hospital for treatment. "He's just always working."

Kennedy also gained a reputation in the state for his comprehension of and dedication to local issues, such as improving the quality of Massachusetts' higher education institutions.

"Whenever he called, he had done his homework," Wilson said. "I really think that he helped (higher education institutions) survive and thrive. … That is our natural resource. We don't have oil, coal or good weather, but we do have great universities."

Kennedy became important on nearly every issue, not just education. "In Massachusetts, if you're interested in the economy, or jobs, he is our go-to guy," said Peter Meade, the recently named president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. "If you're interested in social justice, he is our go-to guy. If you're interested in access to or the quality of health care, he is our go-to guy. If you're interested in making sure everybody is included in the American dream and has access to it, he is our guy."

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate will be located on the UMass-Boston campus, next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The Institute, which will showcase the history of the Senate and draw on Kennedy's work, was named after Kennedy in tribute to the length and impact of his career, Meade said.

In October 2006, the Greater Boston Food Bank gave the senator the Founder's Award in recognition of his "tireless and relentless fight for those who have no voice," said Catherine D'Amato, the Greater Boston Food Bank president and CEO. Kennedy provided support to the Food Bank in securing funding for statewide food banks and a new distribution center.

Similarly, in 2003, the Brookside Community Health Center in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston dedicated its community room to Kennedy to acknowledge his support for community health centers nationwide. "Without Sen. Kennedy, and without his vision and passion, community health centers across the country wouldn't exist," said Paula McNichols, the executive director of Brookside Community Health Center. Kennedy was a strong supporter of the development of community health centers since the first center was built in Dorchester, Mass., in 1965, McNichols said.

Both McNichols and D'Amato noted that when they saw Kennedy after their initial meetings, he didn't need a reintroduction. "He remembers people," D'Amato said. "He has a respect and familiarity with his constituents."

Part of this came from Kennedy's penchant for going straight to the source of need, according to Rob Consalvo, a Boston city councilor who previously worked and interned for the senator.

"No matter what the issue is, no matter what time or where the problem is, he makes the time to visit the town, visit the person, visit the families," Consalvo said.

Even in Barnstable, Mass., which includes the village of Hyannis and the Kennedy compound, Kennedy was known to attend town meetings and get involved in town efforts.

Specifically, he helped the town acquire funding for emergency vehicles, health clinics and the Hyannis Youth and Community Center, Barnstable Town Manager John Klimm said. "When you talk to someone from Hyannis, Barnstable or Cape Cod, they know Ted as a member of this community and not as an international leader," Klimm said. "I have really been struck by how he's never forgot where he calls home."

"One doesn't usually describe a lion of the Senate as sweet," Patrick said, "but he is very sweet."

Patrick remembered a time when Kennedy demonstrated an unexpected talent. Shortly after Patrick was elected governor in 2006, he invited Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, over for dinner after a Boston Pops concert. Throughout the show, "Ted kept inviting people to come to our house," Patrick said.

"We ended up singing show tunes until 1 or 2 in the morning," Patrick said. "He loves show tunes and knows all the words to all of them, as far as I can tell."