At 12:24 this morning, my smart phone made its familiar ping; a text message had come been received. “cnnbrn: Senator Edward Kennedy died after a long fight against cancer.”
As with most baby boomers, the Kennedys had been a great influence in my life. Four names, John, Robert, Eunice and Edward, will be forever linked with unprecedented public service. My heart is heavy with the loss of Edward and I extend my thoughts to a family that has to bury the last of the “new generation” of American leaders.
I remember vividly watching John Kennedy pass in his motorcade in Washington in 1962. I had the privilege of meeting Bobby Kennedy as my mother and I walked the reception line at a fundraising luncheon in 1968. I helped train volunteers with the Special Olympics in Colorado. Today, I use Teddy Kennedy’s 1983 speech “Truth and Tolerance,” given at Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now known as Liberty University), as an example of language, style and the ability of winning over a hostel audience for my speech classes.
Through torment and triumph, Teddy was a mentor to my own political growth. His continuous fight on behalf of America’s poor and middle class, building a still unfinished bridge of equality in a nation that watches the disparity of wealth become a deeper and wider chasm. His immovable support of fair and equal health care for all Americans regardless of status. His command of language and understanding of his power to lead the Senate for five decades.
Kennedy was not expected to live long after his diagnosis of brain cancer. However, the strength and knowledge that his ideals needed to continue allowed him to persevere against the odds. His last major public address at the 2008 Democratic National Convention was as awe inspiring as his keynote to the same body 28 years earlier. Kennedy made sure that an American tradition, that the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans, would continue.
I am reminded of a eulogy given by Robert Ingersoll in 1882. “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave have no fear. The largest and the noblest faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest.” I cannot see Edward Kennedy resting in his next incarnation. His hopes and dreams will continue to live in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and will in the future know the words of this true American patriot and continue to hold the torch of the American dream high.