"We've never seen anyone in the Senate that more assiduously and constantly and enthusiastically dedicated his life to trying to make sure that everything that the U.S. government decided was in the best interest of the people who were deprived of poor, neglected or felt the ravages of discrimination," Carter said during an appearance on CNN.
Kennedy challenged the incumbent President Carter during the 1980 presidential election. Carter managed to fend off Kennedy, only to go on to lose the presidential election to Republican candidate Ronald Reagan that fall.
Carter acknowledged the rift between the two men caused by the primary -- as well as the broader split within the party -- but said the two had long ago buried the hatchet.
"The Democratic Party division that was promulgated between the Kennedy group and mine never was healed during that summertime and the fall campaign," Carter said. "And that was one of the factors that was important in a general election."
"But after that occurred, and even before I went out of office, Ted Kennedy and I were completely reconciled as far as friendship was concerned," the former president added. "And since then, whenever I had a major problem that dealt with the Carter Center's business overseas or in any way related to health or welfare or the benefit of poor people in this country and others, I have called on Ted Kennedy as a friend and he's always been fully supportive."
Carter said he hoped that Kennedy's lifelong dedication to healthcare in the U.S. would be in the mind of senators as they take up legislation to overhaul healthcare this fall.
"I believe that would really be the culmination for the Kennedy family of acknowledging the great contribution that he's made to our country," he said.