I was sad to hear of the passing of Ted Kennedy this week. While his policy views often stood in stark contrast with those held by many Latter-day Saints in the United States, he was, nevertheless, a consummate legislator who truly knew how to put political differences aside and reach across the aisle to find common ground on pressing issues facing our country. More importantly, though, and in spite of whatever mistakes he may have made in his life, Ted Kennedy struck me as a good man intent on making America a better place. He is also one who seemed to take to Mormons, from his long-running friendship with the late Wayne Owens, who served as Kennedy’s Chief of Staff for over two years before running for congress himself and who always insisted that Kennedy meet with LDS Church presidents when in Utah, to his close bonds with Senator Orrin Hatch and former Senator Gordon Smith, with whom he often worked across the aisle to produce a good deal of significant bipartisan legislation.
Of his differences with Hatch, Kennedy once said: “We have a difference in terms of perhaps how we are going to achieve the objectives, but I don’t really feel that I have a difference with Orrin in terms of what the objectives ought to be. If you build upon that kind of understanding and respect, you can get a lot of things done.”
Kennedy’s relationships with these men were clearly much deeper than any sort of convenient political arrangement though.
Kennedy was one of the keynote speakers at a Memorial Service for Owens after his unexpected passing in 2002. Owens’ son said that Kennedy “gave a loud, funny storytelling talk that meant a lot to our family.”
When Smith’s son committed suicide in 2003, Kennedy reached out to him repeatedly, approaching him with tears in his eyes, often unable to speak. Kennedy and Hatch went on to co-author the introduction to a book Smith wrote in 2006 that reflected on his son’s death. Upon hearing of Kennedy’s passing, Smith said: “I consider it one of my life privileges to have worked with him across the aisle on many issues. It has been a pleasure and a privilege knowing him.”
In the wake of Kennedy’s death, Hatch penned a column in Newsweek, in which he noted:
I remember a time in my life when I was falsely accused of impropriety and was being savaged in the press. At the same time, my father, Jesse, was dying, and he slipped away in the midst of this tumult. Sadly, many of my Senate colleagues avoided me until I was cleared of all wrongdoing. But not Ted Kennedy. He called and consoled me, talking about his struggle to come to terms with the death of his father and brothers. Concerning the press battles, he said, “Ah, Orrin, everyone knows you did nothing wrong. Everything will work out.” He was the only one, Republican or Democrat, who did that.
Hatch also spoke at Kennedy’s Memorial Service two days ago (see here, here and here) and shared a number of touching anecdotes regarding “his dear friend,” a couple of which I thought were relevant to recount here.
The first involved Hatch’s former administrative assistant, Frank Manson, who had just become the Mission President of the Boston, Massachusetts mission. Hatch said Manson called him soon thereafter requesting several favors: whether Hatch would be willing to address the mission’s 200 missionaries, whether he would ask Kennedy to come speak as well, and whether he could ask Kennedy to secure Faneuil Hall for the meeting. Hatch said he’d try:
“On one occasion after a particularly late night in the Senate” Hatch said Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd were ‘feeling no pain’ (a little tipsy), and while Hatch was walking off the Senate floor, “Teddy put his arm around me and he said, oh, Orrin, I want you to come up to Hyannis Port and I want you to go sailing with me. Yes. You want to do this? Yes, I want you to do that. Yes. I said, now, Teddy, I have a favor to ask of you. He said, you do, so what’s that? I said do you remember Frank Manson, my administrative assistant? He said oh, yes, good guy, good guy.
“I said, well, you know, he’s asked that you and I come and speak to his — and I said he’s now the mission president in the Mormon church, over 200 Mormon young missionaries in Boston, Massachusetts. My hometown, and I said yes…. well, how about he would like you and me to come up and speak to his 200 young missionaries. He said done. Just like that. I said, well, I have another favor to ask of you. What’s that? I said, well, he would like you to get Faneuil Hall. He said done.
“So the next day I got into the office and I got this nice letter for Teddy. And I got it over to him. And I saw him later in the day and he’s holding that letter and his hands were shaking. And he said, Orrin — he said, what else did I agree to last night? …After telling these things, my eyes start to water, my nose starts to run. It was just a mess, I tell you. But in any event, Teddy Kennedy and Orrin Hatch appeared before 200 young Mormon missionaries in Faneuil Hall and they will never forget the tremendous altruistic talk that he gave to them on that day.
“Well, all I can say is it was really something. He didn’t try to weasel out of it. Instead, he produced the hall and he gave that beautiful speech. I was impressed as usual. And those missionaries will never forget that. And though they were of a different faith, he commended them for their willingness to serve a cause bigger than themselves and thanked them for their selflessness. This is just one example of the graciousness of my dear friend, Ted Kennedy.”
The second involved the controversy surrounding the completion of the Boston Temple:
“I was approached by several people working in the temple and informed that the city would not allow a spire to be placed on the top of the temple with an angel on top of it as is customary on Mormon temples.”I immediately called Ted and asked for help. Not long after that conversation, he called me back and said, ‘All of western Massachusetts will see the Angel Gabriel on the top of the Mormon temple.’
“Though I was tempted to leave it alone, I had to inform Teddy it was actually the Angel Moroni, a prominent figure in the LDS faith. And at that point, Teddy replied, does this mean I’m going to get another Book of Mormon for Christmas? Of course he did.”
Whatever one’s views were of Kennedy’s politics, I think we can all join in mourning the passing of an elder statesman who gave nearly fifty years of public service to the Senate and who fought tirelessly during that time in support of many policies he intended to aid the poor and less fortunate, often reaching across the aisle to build consensus in order to do so.
[Please remember to be respectful and civil in your comments]