Even as a lowly intern, as I was in the early 1990s when I worked for Ted Kennedy's senate committee on health, education, labour and pensions, he made you feel as if he valued your contribution.
You were given real work to do, he thanked you, and somehow it felt like he meant it. He was incredibly personable, approachable and kind. He had a big presence with a weighty voice and of course the Kennedy name was an almost intimidating legend.
But that wasn't what made the experience of working with him inspirational for the thousands of young people who queued up to do it.
In the US senate committee system, a lot of the work is done by the staffers and Kennedy's team toiled long hours because he made them believe in what he was trying to achieve. He attracted some of the smartest, most dedicated individuals I've ever met. An important part of his legacy is the impact he had on the thousands who worked for him.
Another of the lessons was his exceptional ability to stay focused on the goal rather than the politicking. He didn't waver from what he wanted. Unlike many politicians, he preferred to cross the aisle to find common ground with his opponents, even those who appeared diametrically opposed to him. He was less interested in scoring political points or making the other guy feel small.
It was a way of working that didn't cost him any integrity, but it meant he found a way to get the job done. Above all, he spoke for the voiceless, working tirelessly on "people first" policies – not banking or finance, but health, welfare, education and civil rights.
The regard with which he was held in Massachussets, where I grew up, is telling. His constituents felt they belonged to him. Whether you voted for him or not, his office was always open. People called him Teddy. And if you knew Teddy Kennedy, you knew what he stood for.Reuse content