"Tonight, we gather to celebrate the incredible American story of a man who made so many other American stories possible, my friend Teddy Kennedy. Unlike his beloved brothers, his sister Kathleen, and his nephews, Teddy was granted the gift of time – he lived, as the Irish poet suggested, not just to comb gray hair, but white hair. And if you look at what he achieved in his 77 years, it seems, at times, as if he lived for centuries. Generations of historians will chronicle his prolific efforts on behalf of others. I will leave that to them.
Tonight, I just want to share some thoughts about my friend. And what a friend he has been – a friend of unbridled empathy, optimism, and full-throated joy. Examples of his friendship are legion. Many years ago, a close friend of mine passed away. Teddy didn’t know him. I was asked to say a few words at the funeral. As long as I live, I will never forget that, as I stood at the pulpit and looked out over the gathering, there was Teddy, sitting in the back of the church. He wasn’t there for my friend. He was there for me, at my time of loss. That was what it was like to have Teddy in your corner… And two weeks ago, as I was coming out of surgery, I got a call from Teddy, his unique voice as loud and booming as ever.
“Well,” he roared, “Between going through prostate cancer surgery and doing town hall meetings, you made the right choice!”
And though he was dying, and I was hurting, he had me howling with laughter in the recovery room as he made a few choice comments, I cannot repeat, about catheters.
As we all know, Teddy had a ferocious sense of humor. In 1994, he was in the political fight of his life against Mitt Romney. Before the first debate, held in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, I was with Teddy and his team and, along with everyone else, offering him advice.
“Teddy,” I cautioned, “We Irish always talk too fast. Even if you know the answer to a question, you have to pause, slow down, and appear thoughtful.”
Out he went, and, of course, the first question was something like this: “Senator, you’ve served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for nearly 35 years in the United States Senate. Explain, then, why this race is so close.”
Teddy paused. And paused. And paused. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he answered.
After the debate, I said, “Good Lord, Teddy, I didn’t mean pause that long after the first question! What were you thinking about?”
He looked at me and replied, “I was thinking – that’s a damn good question! Why IS this race so close?”
In these last months of his life, I have so treasured our conversations…
Always the competitor. Teddy was never maudlin or self-pitying about his illness, but he was always fully aware of what was happening. Every Irishman’s dream, of course, is to attend our own eulogies. That’s why we call the obituary page the Irish sports page. And I know he enjoyed a uniquely Celtic kick out of hearing people who abhorred his politics say incredibly nice things about him. Volumes, of course, will be published by those attempting to unlock the mystery of why Teddy was such an effective legislator. Was it his knowledge of parliamentary procedure? His political instincts? His passionate oratory? His staff? Please let me save the pundits and political scientists some time – and all of you some money – and tell you what Teddy’s secret was: People liked him.
Now, he always had a great staff, and great ideas, but that only counts for so much in the United States Senate, if you lack the respect and admiration of your colleagues. And Teddy earned that respect…
…Teddy was defined by his love of our country, his passion for public service, his abiding faith, and his family…Teddy was a man who lived for others…We will remember him for the largeness of his spirit, the depth of his compassion, his persistence in the face of adversity, and the breadth of his achievement. We will remember him as a man who understood better than most that America is a place of incredible opportunity, hope, and redemption. He labored tirelessly to make those dreams a reality for everyone. Those dreams, the ones he spoke of throughout his life, live on like the eternal flame that marks President Kennedy’s grave, the flame that Teddy and Bobby lit 46 years ago. And in all the years I knew and loved him, that eternal flame has never failed to burn brightly in Teddy’s eyes. Now, as he re-joins his brothers on the hillside in Arlington, may the light from that flame continue to illuminate our path forward”