Kennedy legacy remembered: Ted Kennedy Jr. and son
recall senator at Read to Grow Luncheon
Published: Thursday, November 19, 2009
By Rita Papazian, Special to the Times
A poignant moment during the Read to Grow annual fund-raising luncheon last Friday came when guest speaker Ted Kennedy, Jr. invited his 11-year-old son, Teddy to join him at the podium at the Omni New Haven Hotel. Five hundred guests had come to hear the son of the late Massachusetts senator speak about his father and his memoir, “True Compass,” published shortly after his death in late August.
Eleven year-old Teddy III, who not only inherited his grandfather’s name, but also his charm, confidence and suave - all good for a political future - shared with his audience a little narrative in which his grandfather taught him about perseverance during a sailing lesson.
“I wasn’t doing well. I was getting last [place], next to last and capsizing. My grandfather would say, ‘Teddy, do you want to win? Look, I’ll show you how to drive the boat.’” The first three races during that summer the senator taught him the lessons, he came in “first overall.”
“My grandfather said, ‘Teddy, I told you, you could do it.’ It was like I really wanted to show him that I could do it.”
Young Teddy’s narrative echoes the story that his father, Teddy, Jr., told during his eulogy at the senator’s funeral. He was 12 years old and lost a leg to bone cancer. He was trying to get used to his new artificial leg when his father invited him to go sledding on a slippery and snowy hill. After many false attempts he told his father he could never climb up the hill.
“And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.”
Ted, Jr. told the luncheon guests “The core of my father’s life was this idea of perseverance.”
Perseverance is a theme that rings strong in “True Compass,” in which the late senator chronicles his life in four parts: Family, Brotherhood, On My Own and Renewal. During his writings of his early years growing up the youngest of nine children in which he attended 10 schools, Kennedy offers many situations in which his parents, especially his father Joseph P. Kennedy former U.S. Ambassador to the court of St. James, instilled many lessons of perseverance. Coincidentally, like his grandson’s age today, age 11, Ted, Sr. convinced his father to let him and his 13-year-old cousin sail their boat two miles out on Nantucket Sound near their home on Cape Cod and moor the boat overnight near the Bass River. They incurred a sleepless wet, cold night and once daylight came, decided to leave the boat and swim ashore where they called the family’s chauffeur to come get them. While, young Teddy expected to return home to a good breakfast and rest, instead his father made him return to the boat.
“Teddy, if you leave with the boat, you come back with the boat.”
The senator wrote: “In the long hours and days and years, my father has been there to turn me around and send me back to do what is necessary.”
His father would give him what amounted to his benediction: “After you have done your best, then the hell with it.”
After the luncheon as Kennedy’s grandson sat next to his father signing books, which also included the senator’s children’s book, “My Senator and Me: A Dog’s-Eye view of Washington, D.C., young Teddy was asked by this reporter if there were times during the day when he especially thought of his grandfather. He said that when he has difficulty doing something he can hear his grandfather’s voice saying, “Teddy, I know you can do it.”
During his talk, Teddy, Jr. said that many people didn’t know that one of the things his father enjoyed was reading to school children. For over 10 years, the senator went to a local elementary school in Washington, D.C. and read to children, he said.
Throughout his speech, Teddy, Jr. a graduate of Wesleyan University, Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the University of Connecticut School of Law, talked about his father’s memoir which he described as “riveting.” Kennedy, Sr. took contemporaneous notes over 50 years and also had been participating in an oral history project at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia which contributed to the eventual writing of the book with collaborator Ron Powers, whose biography of Mark Twain captivated Kennedy. Also, Kennedy had access to hundreds of letters written by his parents and siblings.
Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, which published the book, said, “We know the contours of Ted Kennedy’s life, but hearing the story in his own voice gives us a new appreciation for a life lived with joy and purpose.”
Ted Kennedy, Jr. articulated those two words, joy and purpose as he referenced his father’s life during his talk. He noted how many people say he, himself, looks like his father. He related a story in which a stranger went up to the senator and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Ted Kennedy? That must make you mad as hell.”
He described his father as a student of history and “this was his chance to let it all out.” As the youngest of nine children, the senator always felt his life was “a constant state of catching up.” Ted, Jr. recalled his father writing how competitive the family was. “We could never sit and enjoy the beach; it always ended up in some form of competition.” Of his own childhood, Ted. Jr. recalled sitting around the dinner table was like a Jeopardy contest.
In “True Compass,” Kennedy talks about the role of religion and how as he matured he grew curious about beliefs and was drawn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 which talks about caring for “the least of these among us, and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned.”
“My father felt he was on a mission in life to look at those less fortunate,” said Ted, Jr. who said he “grieves for the work my father had yet to do. He was at the top of his game and that is what is sad about his passing. It’s a tough time. This Thanksgiving will be a tough time in my house,” said Kennedy who lives with his family in Branford. He is president and co-founder of Marwood Group & Co., a healthcare-focused financial services firm with offices in new York City, Washington, D.C. and London specializing in proprietary health care research, capital introductions, asset management and private equity advisory services.
Kennedy was introduced by Jonathan Bush, brother of George H. Bush, who with his wife Jody served as honorary co-chairs of the event. Bush, who spoke of his longtime friendship with the Kennedy family, described the senator as a kind and generous individual who was as natural in life as he was in politics.”
He said when Ted Kennedy, Jr. “gets ready to run for office, I will be right there voting for him.”
“Am I missing something, or did I just get an endorsement,” said Kennedy, Jr., noting the Kennedys have always had a great respect for the Bush family. “There’s no monopoly on good ideas. There’s good ideas on both sides of the aisle.”
Kennedy, Jr. discounts any current interest in running for office. “I would love to do that one day, but my number one job is to be a dad. Elected office requires a lot of time. My job is to be the best father I can possibly be.”
Following the luncheon Jennifer Rannestad of Chester said she was struck by the bipartisanship between the Kennedy and Bush families and the need for it to continue. Rannestad, who is executive director of Essex Meadows, a senior retirement community in Essex, attended the event with Kathleen Dess of Madison, who is an administrator at the housing community.
The women, who each have children ages 11 and 13, attended the luncheon in support of the Read To Grow’s mission of literacy. Dess has been active with Connecticut Loves To Read, a literacy program co-sponsored with the Madison Chamber of Commerce. The program provides volunteers who go into the schools to read to children. Dess was especially moved to learn of the late senator’s decade-long volunteerism reading to children in the D.C. schools.
Read to Grow is a statewide nonprofit organization that helps build early literacy for Connecticut’s children. The organization was founded in 1998 by Madison bookseller Roxanne Coady and a diverse group of individuals who recognize that a child’s literacy begins at birth. Read to Grow encourages parents – a child’s first and most important teachers – to take an active role in their child’s literacy development and begin reading to their newborn right from birth. The organization also provides free children’s books to families and programs in need, and parental guidance on building a strong foundation for later literacy and learning. More than 100 volunteers deliver program services.
Before the luncheon Read to Grow’s Executive Director Suzanne Santangelo stressed the importance in building literacy right from birth. This past year, Read to Grow delivered packets of information and a book to 50 percent of the newborns in the state. The goal is to reach 100 percent through partnership with the hospitals, she said.
Coady told the gathering that the American Academy of Pediatrics said there should be no “screen time” for children 2 and under.
Richard M. Barry, president of Citizens Bank, the event sponsor, expressed the bank’s delight in continuing its support for the Read to Grow program and praised Pilgrim Furniture City, which received the Corporate Partner Award, for its commitment to promoting literacy for children across the state. Last year, the Connecticut-based furniture company became the sponsor of public service announcements aired by WTNH/WCTX promoting Read to Grow and the importance of books and reading aloud to children. The furniture company, which has stores in Milford and Southington, also donated to Read to Grow a portion of the proceeds raised at its annual charity golf tournament.
Southern Connecticut State University received the Community Partner Award for its efforts in advancing literacy at the community level. SCSU engaged its arts and communications departments in creating visual materials to support Read to Grow programs, including a four-minute instructional video for families.
Coady said the luncheon raised approximately $100,000.
For more information about Read to Grow, www.readtogrow.org