Teddy, Tim and I
|By BERL SCHWARTZ|
After I heard the news that Ted Kennedy had died last Wednesday, I really didn’t want to make my usual weekly appearance on Tim Barron’s radio show a couple of hours later. Tim’s disdain for Kennedy easily matched my admiration for him. Tim dwelled on Chappaquidick. I thought mostly of his record as a public servant.
I stood next to Robert Kennedy in 1968 in the University of Pennsylvania’s field house in Philadelphia. I had helped arrange his presidential campaign speech, and my reward was to share the podium.
By then, though, I had already met Ted Kennedy a year or so earlier. I was a reporter for my college newspaper. The editor had written an editorial calling for the abolition of the draft. Kennedy had invited him to testify before a subcommittee he chaired that was studying the Selective Service System. I went along to cover it.
We waited that morning in Kennedy’s Senate office for him to arrive. He was late even for a Kennedy. After more than an hour, he arrived. Rather diffidently, he explained, “A truck ran into my plane on the runway in Boston.” Considering he had almost died in an earlier plane crash, he was almost strangely nonchalant about it.
I met Kennedy again in 1975, this time when I was a Washington correspondent for The Louisville (Ky.) Times. The mayor of Louisville had been invited to some sort of benefit at the Virginia home of Sen. Charles and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb and he invited me to cover it. Ted and Joan Kennedy were there, as was actress Tammy Grimes. So was People magazine, and the next week there I was in a photo standing among all of them as if I was important. (Not to the photographer, though: My name didn’t appear in the caption. No doubt he thought a nobody in the midst of the celebs had ruined his best photo.)
The last time I met Kennedy was in Washington around 1979 when he was sponsoring legislation to deregulate the trucking industry (yes, a liberal Democrat fighting for deregulation). At this point, I was on the national staff of Scripps Howard News Service covering Congress. A college friend who was then a Kennedy staffer arranged a one-on-one interview for me. I prepared myself the best I could on a topic in which I had very little interest.
I also believe in redemption. Ted Kennedy had huge faults — but he worked hard for the public good and accomplished much. We shouldn’t forget Chappaquiddick and other mistakes, but we should keep them in perspective. He was a human being who served his country well.
So, Tim, I urge you to keep those thoughts in mind as I propose we hoist a beer (in your case, a root beer) in memory of Ted Kennedy.
(Berl Schwartz is editor & publisher of City Pulse. He appeared at 8:30 Wednesday’s on Tim Barron show on WQTX, 92.1 FM.)