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Remembering Ted Kennedy, My Friend of 56 Years

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After all the magnificent eulogies and obituaries, what more and what new can be said about Ted Kennedy, my friend of almost exactly 56 years and the leader of all the causes in Washington in which I believe -- a more peaceful world, a more just America, a more humane and progressive United States government.

Too many people still think about the human frailties that characterized his youth; and those without sin are permitted by scripture to cast the first stone against him. But that past only emphasizes the extraordinary extent to which, like his brothers Jack and Bobby, Ted grew as his responsibilities increased. His determination to achieve his brothers' goals was genuine and unrelenting, his devotion to each of his own many causes over the years was sincere and unflagging. He became known on both sides of the Senate aisle for his careful selection and retention of a brilliant staff, and - with their help - doing his homework in preparation for every Senate debate.

Most people do not realize the extent to which he was, in the final analysis, a survivor. Both his oldest brother and his oldest sister were killed in plane crashes, but he survived the plane crash that broke his back and killed the pilot and co-pilot. As the younger brother of two assassinated young liberal heros, he received his own share of anonymous hate mail and death threats, but he survived to age 77. Both after his plane crash and his automobile accident, I sat at his bedside, wondering if he would have the strength to go on. But he did, and for this last year I had hoped that somehow he would come back again and go on to even greater heights as a champion of America's final effort to achieve accessible health care for all of its citizens.

As a friend, he could be funny, full of laughter and as interested in frivolity and gossip as anyone else in Washington. He had the good fortune to meet and marry Victoria Reggie, whose parents were a wonderful politically-oriented and active Democratic Party couple in Louisiana whom John F. Kennedy and I had met long before Teddy had met Vicki. But she was the saving grace of the latter portion of his life, even before he was suddenly struck by brain cancer; and she was as well the caregiver and schedule coordinator who made his last year a time of peace that included recreation as well as a continuing voice in legislation.

He is fortunate as well to be survived by three remarkable children, who have had their own encounters with illness and adversity: Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who could someday rise, if all goes well, to be a leader of not only his Party but the House of Representatives; Edward Kennedy, Jr., who has learned from his father's leadership on health care, his two uncles' fight for universal access to quality medical care, and his own early setback -- when cancer took his leg -- to make a career out of providing advice and assistance to medical and hospital facilities -- particularly those helping the orthopedically disabled -- all over the world; and Kara Kennedy Allen, Ted's daughter, who has shown the same caring for the least fortunate in her own career. Kara works for Very Special Arts, the creative counterpart to Special Olympics founded by her aunt Jean; and serves as well on the Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Facing lung cancer in 2003 but currently in remission, she too has personal experience with the highs and lows of healthcare in this country.

Clearly, Teddy Kennedy's own legacy will live on through his children, through the hundreds of important pieces of legislation that he authored, through the brilliant staff that he assembled and dispersed to other important roles around the country, and through the books, articles and speeches he has produced in his 46 years as a United States Senator. Above all, his legacy will live on through the millions of friends he has made and nurtured over the years, both in and out of politics, both in and out of the United States, among members of many races, religions and nationalities. Among all those friends for whom he did so much good, some will mourn and miss him more than others. I am among those who will miss him most.

Ted Sorensen is the former Special Counsel and Advisor to President John F. Kennedy and most recently the author of Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History.