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Kennedy's Gift

Joe Holley

I first met Ted Kennedy in the early 1980s in San Antonio, where he was attending a reception at the downtown law offices of Pat Maloney, a wealthy and influential trial lawyer and old-line Democratic fundraiser. It was early evening, in the summer, on the beautiful rooftop patio of the historic building that housed Maloney's firm. I remember how Kennedy was in his element -- hosted by a fellow Irishman who loved a raucous tale as much as he did, surrounded by fellow pols, lots of good food (of the Mexican variety) and flowing libations.

Having gotten to know him much better the past year -- albeit vicariously -- as I worked on his advance obit, I think that congenality on display in San Antonio long ago is the one quality that really stays with me about his life. By all accounts, he had a gift for getting along with people, for appreciating who they were even when he didn't agree with them (maybe especially when he didn't agree with them). Numerous Republicans down through the years -- from South Carolina's Strom Thurmond to the Massachusetts senator's good friend Orrin Hatch, the senator from Utah -- could point to legislative victories they achieved in tandem with Kennedy, despite the fact that he was the bete noire of rightwing talkshow bloviators.

Now that he's gone, I'm wondering whether that cordiality and easy-going regard for others is a gift unique to Ted Kennedy or whether it can be cultivated. Any ideas?

By Joe Holley |  August 26, 2009; 10:21 AM ET  | Category:  Joe Holley
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My mother worked as a lobbyist in an era when that job was not a filthy, criminal act. Because her views tended to make traditional-minded legislators nervous, she brought me along. I was four, seven, and ten years old before she dissolved her lobbying organization (Women's Lobby) in 1979.

Senator Kennedy had a rare talent of making me feel like he was paying attention to me, as he absorbed (and often voted for) recommendations my mother had for legislation coming up before his committees. I will remember the few times I met him as special because he had the charisma of Thomas P. O'Neil, the compassion and warmth of George McGovern, and the grasp of political mechanics that Strom Thurmond mastered.

Posted by: phburris | August 26, 2009 5:18 PM

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