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.
When our daughters Grace and Christina were born, first call I received was from Teddy.
When I lost the Iowa caucuses last year, not that anyone thought I was going to win, first call I received was from Teddy and Vicki.
When my sister passed away last month, first call I received was from Teddy, even though he was well into the final summer of his own life.
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.
At 6:30 in the morning of July 16th, the morning after his Senate health care committee finished five weeks of exhausting work on the bill he had written, and that I believe will be the greatest of his many legacies, my phone rang.
There was Teddy, beyond ecstatic that we had finished our work, and that his committee had been the first to report a bill.
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.
He arrived in Washington as the 30-year-old brother of a sitting president and the attorney general of the United States.
Too many people drew their conclusions about him before he spoke his first words in the Senate.
And over the years, he became a target of partisans who caricatured him as a dangerous liberal.
Now, liberal he was, and very proud of it!
But once you got to know him, as his Senate colleagues did, you quickly learned he was no caricature.
He was a warm, passionate, thoughtful, tremendously funny man who loved his country, and loved the United States Senate.
If you ever needed to find Teddy in the Senate chamber, all you had to do was to listen for that distinctive thunderclap of a laugh, echoing across that hallowed hall as he charmed his colleagues – and, more often than not, got them to vote for whatever it was he was pushing that day.
He served in the Senate for almost a half-century alongside liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and he befriended them with equal gusto.
It’s great to see his friends Senators Orrin Hatch and John McCain here.
It is to their great credit that they so often supported Teddy’s efforts.
And, I say in some jest, it is to Teddy’s great credit that he so rarely supported theirs.
But Teddy’s personal friendships with Orrin and John, and so many other conservatives, weren’t simply the polite working relationships that make politics possible.
They are the real and lasting bonds that make the United States Senate work.
That’s what made Teddy one of our greatest Senators ever.
Some people born with a famous name live off of it. Others enrich theirs. Teddy enriched his.
And, as we begin the task of summing up all that he has done for his country, perhaps we can begin by acknowledging this:
John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired our America; Robert Kennedy challenged our America; and Teddy changed our America.
Teddy was involved in every major debate in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Nearly every important law passed in the last half century bears his mark, and a great many of them bear his name.
Teddy was defined by his love of our country, his passion for public service, his abiding faith, and his family.
His much-adored Vicki, his children Kara, Teddy, and Patrick, his step-children Caroline and Curran, his grandchildren, nieces and nephews – all of you need to know, you brought him unbounded joy and pleasure.
Teddy was a man who lived for others.
He was a champion for countless people who otherwise might not have had one, and he never quit on them, never gave up on the belief that we could make tomorrow a better day. Never.
Last August in Denver, one year to the day before his passing, Teddy spoke at our national convention.
His gait was shaky, but his blue eyes were clear, and his unmistakable voice rang with strength.
As he passed the torch to another young president, Teddy said: “The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”
He spoke of the great fight of his life – ensuring that every American, regardless of their economic status, is guaranteed the right to decent health care.
We are all so saddened that he did not live to see that won.
But in a few short days, we will return to our work in Teddy’s Senate.
The blistering days of August will be replaced, I pray, by the cooler days of September.
And we will prevail in the way Teddy won so many victories for our country: by listening to each other; by respecting each other and the seriousness of the institution to which we belong, and where Teddy earned an immortal place in American history.
As he so eloquently eulogized his brother Bobby 40 years ago, Teddy doesn’t need to be enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.
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.
And with the work of our own hands, and the help of God, inspired by Teddy’s example, may we lift up this great country that my friend Teddy loved so much.