Ted Kennedy was my boss and my mentor. More than anyone in my life, he inspired me as he inspired all of the many hundreds of staffers who served him on his senate staff.
I began volunteering as a freshman in college in his mailroom in 1969 when I was 20 years old. In those first months I ran errands, drove him to appointments, babysat his children Kara, Teddy Jr. and Patrick, and wrote many speeches and Congressional Record statements that he would insert for every conceivable cause, event and person who merited having "The Senator's" support.
I was also a short-stop on his Senate office softball team affectionately known as the "Boston Ted Sox."
Senator Kennedy would come out several times each summer to play softball with his staff and summer interns. He captained the team, yelled us on, and then jumped in to play first base when it looked like his staff could inconceivably lose to another senate office team.
Lose! A Kennedy nor his staff could lose a softball game!
So The Senator would grab a bat. And he hit many a ball out of the ballpark. He always, always was hitting them out of the ballpark.
My most cherished photo is of us standing out in a baseball field in DC soaking wet from a rainstorm that had interrupted a game. He was as muddy and wet as the rest of us were.
For the many generations of staff who had the honor to serve him during his Senate tenure, all of us were proud members of the "Boston Ted Sox."
The staff either respectfully referred to him as "The Senator" or "EMK." It was never appropriate for us to call him by his first or last name. To this day -- especially this day, I always just called him "The Senator."
After a year volunteering, I was hired by Senator Kennedy to be a legislative assistant on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees, which he chaired. It was The Senator's mini-State Department. He chaired this Subcommittee with courage and conviction on behalf of millions of the world's hungry and destitute refugees.
It was from this vantage point that I came to see a side of Senator Kennedy which few in America appreciate -- a tireless globe-trotting champion of the downtrodden victims of war and natural disaster whose passion, concern and commitment saved countless thousands from certain death.
It is a legacy that deserves to be better known as he is honored by so many today and in the weeks ahead.
During the Vietnam War, Senator Kennedy (a veteran himself), trudged through countless refugees camps in Vietnam and Cambodia to shed light on the plight of the innocent war victims who were left homeless, caught in the incessant crossfire. He railed against President Nixon and his administration for failing to do more to come to the aid of these hundred of thousands of Vietnamese. Kennedy did everything humanly possible to convince his colleagues in the Senate to support greater aid to help Vietnam's displaced. He single-handedly compelled the Nixon administration to devote more foreign assistance to the refugee organizations working in the refugee camps, and strengthened the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by mobilizing global humanitarian support for Vietnamese victims of the war.
We always knew that the world's refugee crisis was a 24/7 commitment, and Senator Kennedy was determined to make a difference.
When Bangladesh declared its independence in 1971 and Pakistan's military invaded it, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled into India. Kennedy came to their rescue. He personally galvanized the U.S. military to airlift relief supplies to the refugee camps around squalid Calcutta, spent over a week among the refugees working with international relief organizations to organize their donor needs from the U.S. government and the generosity of the American people. When he returned to the Senate, he used the gavel of his Subcommittee chairmanship to enlist his colleagues in supporting new changes to the Foreign Assistance Act and the Food for Peace program to enable massive airlifts of food for the starving refugees in India.
Kennedy took great personal risks as Chairman of the Senate Refugee Subcommittee. He courageously traveled with UN personnel into war zones to investigate and attempt to protect refugees. When the breakaway region of Nigeria known as Biafra broke away, Kennedy implored the Nigerian Army to enable international relief agencies to begin protecting the innocent civilians caught in the civil strife.
The Senator sent me to the Middle East one year to investigate the plight of Palestinian refugees following the 1973 Middle East war. After visiting almost 20 refugee camps, I returned to Washington to write the first report about Palestinian refugees as a junior staffer for the Subcommittee. Kennedy read every page, and then convinced his colleagues to support more social, medical and welfare support for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides funding for many of the Palestinians. Kennedy introduced an amendment to the 1974 Foreign Assistance Act to speed more humanitarian relief to Palestinians In the face of some critics at home. Kennedy never backed down from his support to find a permanent home for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, which he considered absolutely essential to the cause of peace as a passionate supporter of Israel.
When Soviet Jews were being persecuted by the Kremlin, Kennedy traveled repeatedly to Moscow with lists of names in his hand to appeal to Soviet leaders to gain their release. By his own legacy and persistence, hundreds of Soviet Jews personally gained their freedom because of his intervention.
I know I am not doing adequate justice to all Senator Kennedy did for refugees around the world with these few, short paragraphs. Where there was war, Senator Kennedy believed someone had to protect the innocent victims.
When you next travel to Vietnam or Cambodia, to Laos or to East Timor, to Bangladesh or to Sudan, to Nigeria or Jordan, to Algeria or Russia, Senator Kennedy's legacy will endure as a savior of refugees.
In the four decades that Senator Kennedy chaired or served on the Refugee Subcommittee, there is not one U.S. or international relief organization that did not benefit from his professional or personal generosity.
The United Nations is a much stronger global relief organization because of his enduring support. Congress has become far more amenable to supporting a strong, vital U.S. foreign aid program because of his leadership. The cause of refugees has become a critical issue among global diplomats in international forums because of lion-like devotion to humanitarian causes around the world.
Surely JFK is remembered around the world for his presidency and RFK is admired among his generation for his compassion. Tonight, by candlelight or lantern, EMK will be quietly remembered and honored in thousands of tents, huts and homes of refugees around the world who owe their lives and the lives of their children to his generous devotion to their safety and security.
Ted Kennedy was as much a home run king around the world as he was to so many millions of Americans at home.
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