In memory of Ted Kennedy

Sometimes the best friendships are made under unlikely circumstances. Such was the case with the Kennedys and the Reagans.

Of course there were differences in our political beliefs, and some believed that those differences would make it impossible for us to get along. Most people are very surprised to learn that our families are actually quite close.

Ted and I have corresponded regularly for years. He always wrote lovely letters of support, encouragement and appreciation. He phoned often — I’ll never forget that he managed to track me down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to wish me a happy birthday one year. I enjoyed working together with him over the past few years on behalf of a cause that was important to both of us, stem cell research.

As a Republican president and a Democratic senator, Ronnie and Ted certainly had their battles. There were conflicts to overcome, disagreements to settle and compromises to be made, but in doing so, the mutual respect that came from struggling to work together led to a deeper understanding and friendship. Both were men of strong convictions, but they understood an important principle: Politicians can disagree without being disagreeable.

When Ronnie and I were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2002, Ted gave a beautiful tribute to Ronnie. As I reread that speech today, I was struck by how some of the wonderful things he said about Ronnie also describe Ted: “He was a fierce competitor who wanted to win — not just for himself, but for his beliefs. He sought to defeat his opponents, not destroy them. He taught us that while the battle would inevitably resume the next morning, at the end of each day we could put aside the divisions and the debates. We could sit down together side by side … And above all, whatever our differences, we were bound together by our love of our country and its ideals.” That was Ronnie, all right — and that was Ted, too.

Ted and Ronnie were the kind of old-fashioned politicians who could see beyond their own partisan convictions and work together for the good of the country. I wish there were more of that spirit in Washington today. I am encouraged to see how many politicians “from across the aisle” spoke of their admiration for Ted after his passing, so maybe it isn’t really lost. Maybe we can all be inspired by Ted and Ronnie to renew that spirit of bipartisan cooperation.

Ted Kennedy was a kind man, a great ally and dear friend. I will miss him.