A dedicated servant and a dear friend

As a very junior senator from Idaho, I selected an office on the third floor of the Russell Building, which happened to be next door to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office. The first day that we were allowed to officially occupy the space, in came Sen. Kennedy, walking through each of the offices and introducing himself to all of my staff and welcoming each of them to the Russell. Later that day, a beautiful bouquet of flowers showed up for my wife, Patricia, with a note saying, “Welcome to the neighborhood — Ted.” With that, Patricia and I began a wonderful and enduring relationship with Ted and Vicki Kennedy.

Our offices shared a common balcony, and I had a friend from the Kennedy offices who used that route to come see me every day … Blarney, his Jack Russell Terrier. I began keeping a box of Milk Bones for Blarney’s morning visits — and he gladly accepted these treats. In his classical Boston accent, Ted would pretend frustration with Blarney’s habit of taking the treats back down the balcony and eating them in his office while leaving all the crumbs on his floor!

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When I decided to come home to Idaho and run for governor, Sen. Kennedy said he completely understood my decision. There was no second-guessing why I would want to return to a beautiful state like Idaho and be closer to the people there. He wished me well and said that he would miss me. Little did we both know that in 2006 President George W. Bush would nominate me to become the 49th secretary of the Interior. One of the very first calls I received after the announcement was from Ted Kennedy, who said he was so glad I was coming back and he asked what he could do to help with my confirmation. That was the kind of man he was and the kind of friend he was. It didn’t matter that I was a conservative Republican or he was a liberal Democrat. We were friends, and he wanted to help. And he did.

Several months later, I got another call from Ted Kennedy telling me he had been invited to speak at the Ronald Reagan Library. Nancy Reagan was going to host an intimate dinner for him in her residence at the library and she said he could invite a few friends. He was calling to see if I would go. After extending the invitation, he started laughing and said, “What a pal I am, right? Inviting you to dinner 2,500 miles from here!” We both laughed, and I said I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

The night of the speech, I was seated in the front row along with Nancy Reagan and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sen. Kennedy commented on how three of his favorite Republicans were there for him. I don’t think many people realize how much Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy liked each other, but it was very apparent that night at the dinner that Nancy gave for her friend, Ted, and his great wife Vicki, and a few of their friends.

After Sen. Kennedy was diagnosed with his illness and it was made public, I wrote him a two-page letter recapping some of the positive and enjoyable things we had done together. I received an immediate call from Vicki saying how it had brightened his day. That was followed by a handwritten note from Ted, and that was followed by a phone call from him. It was a good visit on the phone, but, as usual, he also had some business he wanted to discuss. He always worked so diligently for his constituents. I last spoke to him in January of this year. It was that same jovial voice of a friend with no hint of the personal health battle he was fighting.

It is universally noted how hard he worked as a senator. He also worked hard at affirming and maintaining friendships. Wouldn’t this be a better place if we all worked a little harder at affirming and maintaining friendships? Perhaps this, too, was one of Ted Kennedy’s lasting legacies.

I will miss my friend.