Ted Kennedy – better known as the Lion of the Senate – has terminal cancer. His days are numbered. But while the most infamous indiscretion of his life forever kept him from running for president and haunted him the rest of his days, he will always be known as a champion of the poor and the underprivileged. The younger son of an Irish immigrant, Ted Kennedy lost his older brothers and well understood the demands of public service.
Joseph Kennedy, his oldest brother and the Kennedy heir-apparent to the U.S. Presidency, lost his life during World War II in a dogfight. With the death of Joe, Jr., John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), a younger brother, then became the standard bearer for the family and did so proudly until his assassination in 1963 at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald.
I was a freshman at the South Whitley High School, and I remember sitting in a classroom – floors of hardwood and an intercom system – and the news coming over the loud speaker – “The President has died.” At 15, we knew little – only that our president had been assassinated. I wondered, as I sat in stunned silence, “how does that happen?”
But Robert Kennedy, a new Kennedy standardbearer rose to the occasion. He was an advocate of civil rights, and he assumed the Kennedy mantel and carried forward with the Kennedy vision. But, once again, the Kennedys would lose a member – Robert Kennedy’s life was cut short by Sirhan Sirhan in June 1968 – at the age of 43.
The lone survivor was Ted Kennedy. Through the eulogy of his brother, his determination, tempered by his role as the remaining Kennedy, shown through. He, alone, was left to carry on. Yet, his poor judgment in abandoning a young campaign specialist, Mary Jo Kopechne, in a disastrous accident near Marthas Vineyard destroyed any aspirations he might have or would have for the presidency.
And, now, we face the certain death of the last of the older Kennedy dynasty – I feel a sense of loss – for the years that the Kennedys reigned. For the years that I knew they would guard against the forces of conservatism that deny social justice. The Kennedys of this world are needed – they balance those who think the world is “perfect” – that discrimiation no longer exists. The Kennedys – no matter their wealth and independence – have offered the hope of justice and equality to this world and to this life.