By By Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) - 08/28/09 05:58 PM EDT
President John F. Kennedy was fond of quoting the biblical passage that tells us: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). When I think of that passage, I think of the life, career and accomplishments of his brother, my dear friend and colleague, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).
When Ted Kennedy came to the Senate in 1962, much had already been given to him. He had been born into a wealthy and remarkably talented family. His father, a financial genius, had been an ambassador to England and the very first commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission. One of his brothers had been a U.S. senator and was then president of the United States. Another brother was the attorney general.
Therefore, as the Scripture tells us, we had a right to expect much from Edward Kennedy when he came to the Senate — and he delivered!
In the Senate, Kennedy became one of the most effective national legislators in history. His imprint is on nearly every piece of progressive legislation crafted during the past five decades: the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Voting Rights Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and increases in the federal minimum wage.
He was the Senate’s Mr. Healthcare. He was the Senate’s Mr. Civil Rights. He was the Senate’s Mr. Human Rights. Although born to a life of privilege, Ted Kennedy dedicated his life to public service.
Neither years of age nor years of political combat nor his illness diminished the idealism and energy of this talented and intelligent man. And that is the kind of senator Ted Kennedy was. Throughout his career, Kennedy believed in a simple premise: that our society’s greatness lies in its ability and willingness to provide for its less fortunate members. Whether striving to increase the minimum wage, ensuring that all children have medical insurance or securing better access to higher education, Sen. Kennedy always showed that he cared deeply for those whose needs exceeded their political clout. Unbowed by the terrible sorrows that had fallen upon his family, his spirit continued to soar, and he continued to work to make his dreams a reality.
During our service together in the Senate, I came to admire him as a dedicated senator of incredible tenacity and admirable legislative skills. I found him to be an indefatigable worker who could accomplish what seemed to be legislative miracles.
I, personally, will always be grateful for the support that Sen. Kennedy gave me during the years it was my privilege to serve as the Senate Democratic leader. When times got tough, as they occasionally do for a Senate leader, I knew that I could always count on him. It may have been a needed vote. It may have been his assistance in building support for a legislative proposal. Whatever was needed, he was there, and I was grateful.
As a result, our friendship developed and strengthened. The institution that he served so ably will never be the same without his voice of eloquence and reason. I will miss him dearly.