The Death of a Friend

09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In nearly 47 years spent serving the American people, Ted Kennedy never stepped away from a fight, never stopped being a champion of the middle class, never ceased being a friend to labor and working families. From civil rights to health care, right until the end, he was our strongest advocate. We will always remember him. In his memory, we will continue to pursue our shared dream of opportunity for all.

Senator Kennedy's congressional accomplishments were monumental, and health care was a significant theme throughout his career. He first advocated for health care reform in 1966 when he proposed amending the Economic Opportunity Act. In 1972, he created and ushered through the Congress a program focused on nutrition and health care for low-income women and children known as WIC. In 1997, he carried the banner high for the children's health care program, S-CHIP. He even made a surprise return to the Senate last summer to cast the decisive vote for the Democrats on a Medicare bill.

Ted was always there to remind us, when too many had forgotten, that health care for all Americans was not a privilege but a right. This is his legacy. He said that quality, affordable health care for all Americans is "the cause of my life." And he fervently believed, "Quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face."

Known as the "Lion of the Senate," we counted on Ted to fight for fairness in the workplace and serve as a voice for those whose labor makes this country great. He crusaded for the best, most comprehensive plans on immigration, housing discrimination, rights for the disabled, poor children and struggling young adults hoping to attend college. He never sought credit or recognition. When he co-authored the sweeping Patients' Bill of Rights, he even asked that Sen. John McCain's name appear first and his last.

Beyond what he achieved on the national stage, Ted was an empathetic and caring man. When my father died, Ted was the first person to reach out to me in my time of sorrow. He stayed in contact with families who lost loved ones on 9/11 and remained in touch long after the cameras were gone. The tragedies he experienced made him especially compassionate when others endured their own hardships.

For me this loss is particularly difficult. He was not just an ally, but a dear friend. Ted's great voice has been silenced, but we will forever remember what he gave all of us: his life, his passion, his commitment to a more fair and equitable nation. In remembrance of him, we must all keep fighting for the causes he championed so well and rededicate ourselves to winning national health care reform and lifting the lives of all Americans.