Leahy remembers Kennedy as a close friend and gifted legislator

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(Host) A lot of Vermonters have been sharing their thoughts today about the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Senator Patrick Leahy remembers Kennedy as a close friend, a tireless worker, and a gifted legislator.

(Kinzel) Over the past 3 and half decades, Leahy and Kennedy served together on many committees and their offices were very close to each other.

Leahy says he would often walk to the Senate chamber with Kennedy whenever bells rang to announce an upcoming roll call vote.

They traveled together overseas on a number of occasions and Leahy says he came to realize that Kennedy was a very special person:

(Leahy) "Ted believed in America, he believed in the promise in each of us, he believed in the necessity for health care, in education, he led on every one of those issues…I can say this of only a few I ever served with but he was ‘a senator’s senator’ and it’s a sad day." 

(Kinzel) Leahy says Kennedy had the rare gift of being able to bring different sides together. He says Kennedy often took feuding senators up to his Capital office for an informal chat:

(Leahy) "They’d sit and talk and every so often somebody would start oh we can’t do that and he would kind of laugh put his arm around their shoulder whoever it was, oh come on now save that for your supporters back home you’re talking to me now let’s see what we can do."

(Kinzel) When Leahy arrived in Washington in January of 1975 as a freshman senator, he said Kennedy gave him some advice:

(Leahy) "Stand up for what you believe in people will either accept it or they don’t but what’s the use to being in the Senate if you can’t say what you believe it?

(Kinzel) During the past year while battling cancer, Kennedy spent very little time in the Senate. Leahy says he’ll never forget the first time Kennedy returned to the floor for a key vote:

(Leahy) "The whole Senate rose and was applauding – Republicans and Democrats alike. The whole gallery rose, everybody in the gallery was applauding and cheering and clapping. Now technically under the Senate rules… the presiding officer is supposed to bang the gavel and say no demonstrations are allowed in the Senate chamber but of course the presiding officer was standing and cheering."

(Kinzel) With Kennedy’s death, Leahy is now the third most senior member of the U.S. Senate:

(Leahy) "I would have been happy to have spent the rest of my career being number 4 and had him ahead of me. I fully expected that Ted and I end our careers together in the Senate."

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.



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