Every time I’ve gone into a classroom, whether for a career day, a story or some kind of school news-related activity, I get the question: Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met?
There’s a whole list and I usually start with John F. Kennedy Jr. I mention that I met him while he was campaigning for his uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who I’d also met. And there’s usually at least one kid in the class who notes that Ted Kennedy isn’t exactly that hard to meet, because…
And I can finish that sentence in several ways, because I’ve written a variation on it in many stories over the years.
“It wasn’t until I contacted Ted Kennedy’s office that the insurance company relented and allowed my son to get a bone marrow transplant.”
“No one paid any attention to us until we contacted Ted Kennedy’s office.”
“Ted Kennedy’s office told us about this program.”
“Ted Kennedy’s office helped us get the visa.”
“Ted Kennedy’s office told us about the grant and helped us with the paperwork.”
The first time I saw Ted Kennedy, he was buying ice cream on the Cape. I don’t remember what adult happened to point him out to me. I was kind of distracted by the ice cream at the time.
The second time I saw Ted Kennedy, he was speaking to one of my classes at Boston University. I remember nudging my roommate and pointing out to her that only the Kennedy family had that kind of New England accent. She, meanwhile, was rather star-struck, which is something that seems to happen to out-of-staters who aren’t quite used to having Kennedys around.
The time I actually interviewed Ted Kennedy, he was in Marlborough for an editorial board meeting at my tiny daily. It was a bit of a coup for us — he actually came to talk with a group of reporters from what was then a small chain of weeklies and one daily newspaper. I don’t remember what he said, aside from the fact that he kept veering away from the local stuff we were trying to focus on to talk about New Bedford’s fishing industry. I remember being fascinated by his face.
“I thought his nose was going to drop off during the interview,” I murmured to another reporter. This would have been mid-1990s, sometime after the William Kennedy Smith trial. We all agreed, talking it over afterward, that Ted Kennedy had a face that had seen a lot of evil. There’s really no other way to describe it. It was unhealthy and battle-scarred.
The next time I saw him, it was another newsroom, another edit board meeting, and he looked remarkably better. We all agreed his then-new marriage seemed to be working for him.
My husband’s first words to me this morning were “Ted Kennedy died last night.”
It’s quite possible this may be the last time I write a story with the words “when he contacted Ted Kennedy’s office…”