To his credit, Randy sent this piece to me at 2:20 a.m. today. I was too busy doing some schoolwork and then busy at work and did not notice it until later on. I also have a piece from Dr. William Harvey, who had even a more personal connection with the Massachusetts senator than did Randy. Barring anything unforeseen, I’ll get Dr. Harvey’s commentary up here in a few hours’ time. Both are good, but very different. — Jeff
By Randy Wills
It’s late here in the northwest, but I’ve been sitting here, meditating on the death of Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy, announced just a short time ago by his family. You see, our paths crossed many years ago back in Massachusetts.
We didn’t actually meet, but, as the general manager of a small electronics company during the mid-sixties, I used to frequently fly the Eastern Airlines shuttle between Boston and Washington, D.C., where the business that I managed had a number of customers. On occasion, the newly minted junior senator from Massachusetts would also be on board. Then, in the late sixties, when I launched my own business, the law firm in Boston representing my interests was closely connected to the Kennedys (the senior partner was appointed to a judgeship by “The President”, John F. Kennedy). The first meeting that I hosted with the law firm and the investor group that they had formed to back my new venture was held (not coincidentally) in a private dining room at Locke Ober’s, Teddy’s favorite restaurant in Boston in those days. Those were halcyon days for me, but they were not to last long for either me or Teddy but, for my part, that’s another story.
Teddy, who had first filled out the remainder of his older brother’s term via special election in 1962 when John became president, was elected in his own right to a full term in 1964 and was on his way, politically speaking. But then things started to go wrong. John was assassinated in the fall of 1963 and then, in 1968 when it looked like Bobby would go on to become the Democratic nominee for the presidency, he too was killed by an assassin’s bullet. One year later came that fateful night of July 18, 1969 when it seemed certain that young Teddy’s career on the national political scene was over. And, by all rights, if personal integrity made any difference, it should have been.
As you know, that was the night of the infamous “Chappaquiddick Incident” when Mary Jo Kopechne, a beautiful, 28-year-old, unmarried campaign worker for Bobby Kennedy drowned in Teddy’s submerged ’67 Oldsmobile, which he had accidentally driven off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. Mary Jo had been a tireless campaign worker for Bobby Kennedy–one of a special group of young women who had manned “The Boiler Room”–and she, along with Teddy and some of the other “Boiler Room Girls,” were having a reunion party near the beach just one year after Bobby’s assassination.
If you don’t already know all of the details of that night, the information is easy to find. The bottom line, however, is that Teddy escaped the submerged car and took off, leaving Mary Jo to drown without making any attempt to rescue her or call for help. Authorities even speculated that, because Mary Jo’s body was found in the car, pressed up in a spot that likely would have held an air bubble, she had actually suffocated rather than drowned. Regardless, it is difficult if not impossible to think of a more self-centered, callous act than Teddy Kennedy was guilty of that night.
I was shocked at the news reports the next day, and I was certain that the last hope of that generation of the Kennedy family as a major player in national politics was done. But then I learned about the absolute disconnect between reality and the voting public. And we all know what happened from that point on.
Yes, Teddy was denied the nomination of the Democratic Party for the presidency in 1980, but he returned to Capitol Hill and nonetheless went on to become known as “The Lion of the Senate” and to be given iconic status in the Democratic Party as “America’s Statesman” for his determined efforts to pull the nation to the left with his liberal policies.
But I never could get over the fact that the public was willing to vote for a man who was partying with that group of young campaigners near the beach at Chappaquiddick while his pregnant wife, Joan, was bedridden as a result of having already suffered two miscarriages. How do you live with yourself knowing that you, acting out the behavior that the Kennedy men were so famous for, caused the death of an innocent young woman while saving your own life?
His wife, ostensibly because of her husband’s womanizing, apparently tried to drown her humiliation in alcohol and eventually, this woman who had been a beautiful American model before marrying Teddy (John called her “The Dish” because of her beauty) wound up one night in 2005 lying disheveled and seriously injured on Beacon Street in Boston, reportedly not knowing where she was, how she got there, or what had happened to her.
What must have teddy, as the last hope for political prominence of the Kennedy clan, been thinking as he lay on the bed in the motel in Edgartown that night, supposedly having swam across the channel separating Chappaquiddick from Martha’s Vineyard after his car plunged into the water at Dike Bridge, knowing that Mary Jo’s body was still in the car? One can only conclude that it was for his own political survival that he was concerned, but that act of cowardice never became a factor in his re-election to the Senate from the great state of Massachusetts. That’s when I became a cynic about politics, specifically the kind of politics that emanates from places like Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois, where nothing matters but power.
And that’s what I’ve been ruminating on tonight since I heard that the Honorable Senior Senator from Massachusetts had passed on. I took a few moments, thinking. But then I remembered the verse in Hebrews and said to myself: “this one’s for you, Mary Jo.”
Randy Wills lives in the Northwest with his wife of over 52 years and divides his time between his role as Operations Manager of a software development business founded with his son in 2002 and maintaining close contact with his extended family. Both he and his wife are avid readers and spend as much time as they can together reading and engaging in deep discussion of history, religion, and politics. For recreation, Randy and his wife like to “get away” in their RV.