09/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remembering Senator Kennedy

A civil rights giant and champion of the underdog has died. Yes, we knew death might come any day. Still, it left me feeling very sad, and I suspect it did most Americans. You pause, you reflect. Many of us have Kennedy memories and stories, and I have mine.

Some thirty years ago, as a young lawyer just out of law school , I worked with the Senator on airline and trucking legislation. I met him at the White House for more than one bill-signing ceremony, I took my old boss Ray Smith, then Bell Atlantic CEO, to talk about ENDA legislation with him, and later telecommunications legislation. He was invariably courteous but more than that, he was also welcoming and friendly, especially to staff. He was also a jovial man and he was a smart man.

Just look at his extraordinary and lasting legislative accomplishments in civil rights, health care, education, transportation, and on down the line. He did all that with great gusto and a great sense of humor, maybe because he was Irish. Most of his life was lived on the public stage, and he demonstrated that one person can make a difference. Ted Kennedy did indeed make a difference.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network joins the country in extending our sincere condolences to the Kennedy family and the Senator's staff, and in honoring and recognizing his vast contributions over his decades in public life. The loss of this great American leader and legislator marks the end of an era.

The LGBT community has lost one of its most committed champions. Everyone in the LGBT community understood that this generous man was the go-to senator if we wanted to move a major piece of legislation impacting our community.

More than a year ago, Senator Kennedy told SLDN that he would like to take the lead in the Senate as the main author of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He insisted that the bill's introduction and debate be bi-partisan. We were honored that he volunteered to lead this debate in the Senate. Several senators have been ready to introduce the bill, but they have held back out of respect for Senator Kennedy's wishes.

As a key member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and longtime opponent of DADT, Senator Kennedy was a formidable advocate in this debate. We knew we had a fighter with us. His leadership and caring will be deeply missed, but he will remain a great inspiration for us as we continue the fight for justice. I deeply regret that Senator Kennedy will not be participating in the first DADT hearing in sixteen years in the Senate Armed Services Committee this fall. We will miss the unique passion, intensity, and common sense that he would have brought into the hearing room.

It would certainly be appropriate if Senate leaders, Democrats and Republicans, and the new authors of the Senate's repeal legislation would move Ted Kennedy's "Military Readiness Enhancement Act" as a tribute to his leadership in civil rights. That would surely be an appropriate way to honor the Senator and his commitment to equality for all, and it would make all of those who have been leading and fighting for repeal over the past sixteen years extremely proud.

We will miss Senator Kennedy terribly.