Friday, August 28, 2009

End of an Era

The death of Senator Ted Kennedy brings a political era to an end. It began in 1960 with the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as President. His election at the young age of 43 was heralded as a time for new hope. The era saw two of John’s brothers serving in the US Senate. The three Kennedy brothers were household names throughout the US and around the world.

Tragedy hit as John was assassinated in 1963 and Bobby in 1968. We all remembered where we were, what we were doing when we heard the news.

For 41 years, Ted continued to serve in the Senate and carry on as patriarch of the Kennedy family. Proud of his liberal politics, he was often a lightning rod for conservatives. Still, the strength of his warm personality won over many of his political foes in the Senate, some who became close friends of Ted.

For me, the greatest legacy of the Kennedy family is the dedication to public service. The family was very well off and Ted and his siblings could have done what wealthy people do – just make more money and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. But they didn’t. The three brothers went on to serve the public in elected office. Others, like their sister Eunice (founder of the Special Olympics) and nephew Joe (founder of the non-profit Citizens Energy), worked in the non-profit sector. Perhaps JFK summed up this dedication best in his inauguration speech when he said “Ask what you can do for your country.” Yes, the family did still live well off, but because they were given more, they gave more.

One of Ted’s shining traits was being there for those in need. No stranger to great personal loss, Ted would be the first to call his senate colleagues in time of illness or loss. He even personally called all families who lost a member on 9/11.

But now he is gone. He will be resting with his brothers in Arlington National Cemetery. While some members of the next generation of Kennedys serve in political office, the three most famous brothers have now passed on.

And for those of us who lived through their emergence on the national political scene, the era of the Kennedys has ended.

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