Even knowing this day was coming; even knowing it was coming soon, the loss of Senator Ted Kennedy took the air out of the room Wednesday morning. He was the Last Lion, the last of a dynasty, the institution and rock of Massachusetts politics.
Any longtime Massachusetts resident, anyone with the smallest tangential tie to politics had a Kennedy story – how he had shook their hand, helped them get money for a key project, helped them when they were down on their luck.
To his family, he was “Uncle Teddy,” but he served a similar role for many in the state while operating as the last true patriarch of Massachusetts politics.
Congressman Jim McGovern, on a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, released a statement calling the Senator “my inspiration, my mentor, my colleague and my friend. Slán go foil, Senator.”
Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative head Kevin O’Sullivan, a former State Representative, says, “I don’t know how many people were really close to Kennedy…he was like royalty.”
“There was a zone around him…an aura that is hard to describe.”
“He would step into a room and had that ‘it,’ whatever that was.”
As a politician and business activist, O’Sullivan says he found the Senator very helpful. “The guy could deliver. I found his office to be very receptive. I thought his staff people were people that got out and about.
“Kennedy had an incredible knack for feeling the pulse.”
“He was an icon.”
But probably no one in Worcester was closer to the Senator than former Worcester City Councilor and former Worcester Regional Retirement Board head Mike Donoghue.
“He is going to be missed…he will go down as probably the greatest US Senator ever to serve,” says Donoghue, who recollects Kennedy “coming by the house, getting out of the car, playing basketball in the driveway with the kids…helping the kids with their homework, sitting down to dinner with the family.”
“It’s hard to explain. Here you are with one of the most prominent people in the country, and here he is in the yard playing basketball…having dinner with us.”
Donoghue says that in private conversations, Kennedy “talked about caring for people, about not doing enough.”
“He was an individual that really cared…that always took the high road. Even knowing the positions he took would be controversial and many would not agree with…he was not afraid to take a position and debate the issue.”
“In Worcester, he made a difference,” says Donoghue. Particularly in the areas of education, elderly housing, biotech, many say key projects wouldn’t have passed without direct or indirect influence from the Senator. Indeed, little of importance in the state seemed to ever pass without his tacit or explicit approval…or at least input.
“Massachusetts lost a great Senator, the country lost a great senator, the world lost a statesman whose entire political life he fought for those that didn’t have a voice. And personally for my wife Maureen and I, we lost a senator, but we also lost a very good friend. I was fortunate to call him a US Senator and my friend in the same breath.”