Blinkhorn: Remembering Ted Kennedy

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(HOST) Commentator Tom Blinkhorn has been recalling some favorite personal encounters with the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

(BLINKHORN)  I met Ted Kennedy for the first time during the Wisconsin presidential primary in 1960. I was a young reporter for The Milwaukee Journal.

Kennedy family members and friends were all over the state, campaigning for Jack Kennedy, then Massachusetts senator, in a hot race for the Democratic nomination against Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey, then Senator from the neighboring state of Minnesota, was very popular in Wisconsin.

The Kennedys had their work cut out for them. In one famous incident in LaCrosse, Jack Kennedy was overheard on stage before a speech urging his wife Jackie, who was obviously nervous and uncomfortable… "For God’sake, smile Jackie."

Ted was scheduled to speak in the evening at a labor union hall in Cudahy, south of Milwaukee. The place was packed. Kennedy, maybe 28 at the time, arrived right on time with one friend. He worked the crowd like an experienced pro and then gave a passionate statement of support for his brother, trying to make the case that he was just as supportive of the labor movement and social justice as Senator Humphrey. I remember well Ted’s thick Boston accent and the shock of curly hair. I also was left with a strong impression that this guy was in his element.

Jack Kennedy didn’t win the primary but came close.

I followed Ted Kennedy’s career over the years and then encountered him again in 1991 at my daughter Ann’s wedding in Hyannis Port. It was iin September of that year. My elderly mother, now 94, nearly fainted when she saw Ted enter the room. He had long been one of her great heroes.

She insisted that I navigate through the crowd with her in hand to meet the senator. I obeyed of course and used the Wisconsin primary experience as the entry point for a marvelous conversation with the senator. My mother kept nudging me, obviously irritated that I hadn’t introduced her right away.

He responded to her with great charm and a Kennedy tease.

"My, but you are a bit shorter than me," he told my mother.

"Not so short that you can’t bend down here and give me a kiss," she replied without missing a beat.

He did just that and then said… "Let me crouch down so they can take a picture of us."

That photo remains a family treasure and my mother has told and retold the story over the years, always with relish and a tiny bit of Irish embellishment.

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