Sometimes, even when you’ve had a fleeting brush with fame and greatness, memory has a way of tricking you and then chuckling right in your face.
That happened to me last weekend while intermittently watching on television the funeral service, procession and burial of Sen. Edward Moore Kennedy. As the commentators spoke about Senator Kennedy’s distinguished service to his country for nearly a half-century – and even touched on his ability to transform himself into a vessel of great compassion and high purpose, with a feeling for those not as fortunate as himself—I thought to myself, “Man, I would’ve loved to have met this guy, or at least to have been in his presence.”
And then, it dawned on me: I once was in his presence.
Cue up the flashback music. Back in ‘86, I was a young reporter covering the contentious congressional race in the Second District between Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland’s future lieutenant governor and Senator Kennedy’s niece, and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Ms. Bentley wound up shocking many of us, you may recall, by soundly defeating Ms. Townsend. (After all, beating a Kennedy doesn’t happen too often.)
As I remember, it was toward the end of Election Night at Townsend campaign headquarters, the votes had been tallied, and I leaned against a wall at the Towson Armory and put away my notepad. It was a long, tiring evening, and I still needed to come into the office that night (or maybe it was morning) to finish writing my share of the Election Night reporting. The speeches had all been delivered, and the crowd was thinning out. The Townsend supporters were fairly somber and broken-hearted.
But out of the corner of my eye, I happened to spot Senator Kennedy, standing alone (as I recall it), only a few footsteps away from me. He was smiling, calm and looked pretty much like he always did on TV – Uncle Teddy. He seemed lost in thought.
I tried to catch his eye, and even thought I’d pose a question or two. What the heck. I didn’t particularly relish the thought of asking him about his niece’s defeat, but how many chances do you get to interview the patriarch of political royalty, someone whose brother was a U.S. president and whose other brother served as attorney general and is an icon in his own right? Not to mention, Teddy Kennedy was the first politician for whom I ever cast a ballot, way, way back in the ’80 Democratic primary.
Alas, it wasn’t mean to be, as someone suddenly came over, grabbed Senator Kennedy’s arm and whisked him away.
Nonetheless, I can always say that I was in Ted Kennedy’s presence. And hopefully I won’t forget it this time. And even though he was always a lightning rod for conservatives out to crucify “bleeding-heart liberals,” I’ll always be proud that I cast my lot with him on the occasion of my first vote in the American democratic process.