On Fifth Anniversary of Kennedy's Death, I Found Myself Reflecting on a Particular Fact

Friday, August 29, 2014

This past Monday, August 25, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, I eagerly read Marty Nolan’s column in the Globe: “Obama’s Kennedy.  Five years ago, the president lost his only real friend in Congress.”  I thought how good it was to be reading something by Nolan again; he’s been retired a while and no one has replaced him, if you know what I mean.   I also found myself thinking of the times I’d met Senator Kennedy and of how good he was, as so many public persons are, at shielding his actual self from the persons who came at him without end…

On a weekday morning, late in November of 1997, there was a large group of mourners gathered at a funeral home on Broadway, Everett, waiting on Ted Kennedy. 
This was the day of the requiem Mass for Joseph A. Curnane, Sr., a friend of Kennedy’s for nearly 40 years.  The senator had called the deceased’s son and namesake, young Joe Curnane, to say he was stuck in traffic.

 “Could you hold things up a bit?” the senator asked.
He wanted to see his friend one last time, to pay his respects properly. 

The time to form the cortege to the Immaculate Conception Church was drawing near. 
A few minutes later, the senator walked in, alone, to the funeral home.  He offered his condolences to the widow, the former Rosemary Murdock, once the most beautiful girl in Everett.  He had a gentle word, too, for each of Mr. Curnane’s four children.

Then the senator made his way purposefully through the room to the casket.  He knelt in prayer for half a minute, stood, and moved back two or three steps.  He did not take his eyes from the figure of his friend, a campaign warhorse he’d inherited from his brother the President.
No one spoke above a murmur.  No one approached their senator.  It was right, everyone knew, to let him have at least a moment on his own to reflect and to grieve.

The senator turned to his left, where I happened to be standing.  I introduced myself and shook his hand.
“Joe was my father-in-law,” I said.

“An amazing man,” the senator said. “Incredible.”
“Oh, yes.  He was…He was,” I said.

Neither of us seemed to know what to say next.  We stared at the exquisitely crafted wooden casket, nestled in a wall of flowers.
Fidgety, I blurted out: “He hated lies.”

The senator turned abruptly to me.  His eyes had a look of alertness, as if he had been stung.  It was an unguarded look from a naturally guarded man, something I’d never observed in previous encounters with him.
“That was like my father,” Ted said. “He hated lies more than anything.  You did not want to lie to him.”

I searched my mind for something that would keep the conversation spinning that fiber of the personal.  I hoped that I might have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a living legend of American politics.  Maybe I should say something to him about my father, I wondered. 
Before I was able to speak, the senator turned and shuffled off through the crowd.

Was he more mindful of the clock than I? 
His car was waiting.  Perhaps he wanted another look at the eulogy he was about to give at the church.

Or did he want to head off a too-personal conversation, however brief, with yet another stranger, an in-law no less?


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