Recent Speeches

In Memory of Senator Ted Kennedy

Floor of the United States Senate

“Mr. President, as I sit here and listen to the remarks of my colleagues, and I look over at that black velvet-draped desk with the pristine white roses and the poem by Robert Frost, I think of the past 17 years. Years that I’ve been here and have looked up -- perhaps it’s late at night, perhaps it's in the morning, perhaps it's in the afternoon -- and Senator Kennedy is at his desk, and he is talking about a bill that he cares a great deal about.

And as Senator Lautenberg said earlier, Senator Kennedy introduced more than 550 bills that were passed into law.

Now, around here you can introduce a bill and maybe it goes somewhere and maybe it doesn't. And you can introduce a bill and maybe it's a small bill. But introducing a big bill that goes somewhere, that passes the House and that's signed by the President of the United States, is not a small feat.

I listened to Senator Byrd, and in the past he has spoken about lions in the Senate. And Ted Kennedy was a lion of the senate. During 47 years – and this morning in the Judiciary Committee we learned he had been the longest serving member -- during 47 years, if you look at the big bills:

There was the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which enabled people with mental illnesses to live in their communities with minimal hospital care;

The Children's Health Insurance Program, which provided health insurance to uninsured children of low-income families. His commitment to health care reform didn't diminish even as he suffered through terminal illness;

There was his dedication to education. He was a leader in the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which established the federal government's commitment to fund poor children in public schools;

‘No Child Left Behind,’ widely hailed as the greatest example of bipartisan         cooperation during the Bush Administration;

The bill he did with Orrin Hatch, the Serve America Act, the greatest expansion of national service since the New Deal.

And it goes on and on and on. Big bill, bills that changed people’s lives. Not just in a county or a city, but all across this great country.

In civil rights, as you look across at that desk, he had no peer. He would stand up and I would watch, his lower jaw would quiver slightly and he would begin and the thunderous tones would fill the room, filled with passion, filled with conviction, filled with determination.

He played a major role in every civil rights battle in this Congress for more than 40 years. Who else can say that?

He fought for people of color.

For women.

For gays and lesbians.

For those seeking religious liberty.

His amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1982 led to significant increases in minority representation in elective office.

He was a major sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, to ensure that millions of disabled Americans can live productive lives.

These are not small bills. These are big bills.

And the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which strengthened civil rights protections against discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Again, a big bill which became law.

I was part of that small group of senators who met on immigration reform, hour after hour in small, hot rooms. I watched Senator Kennedy with his sleeves rolled back, when he would sit back and wait for just the right time to move or change the tenor of the discussion.

True, that was one that was not successful. But it wasn't because he did not try.

Seventeen years ago, Joe Biden asked me if I would be the first woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I had the honor of doing it. Ted Kennedy was number-two in seniority on that committee. And we saw his commitment first-hand.

It was very special.

You see, I was a volunteer in the campaign for John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I was a full-time volunteer for Bobby Kennedy for his campaign. I saw the nation ripped apart by these double assassinations.

And I saw Senator Kennedy, in addition to being a lion in the Senate, become a surrogate father to nieces and nephews. And I saw him accept this mantle with great enthusiasm. With great love. And with a commitment that spanned the decades.

That, Mr. President, is very special. It is a very special human dimension of a great individual.

I lost my husband, Bert, through cancer, and I know well what the end is like. And I know the good time that grows less and less, and the bad time that becomes more and more.

Ted Kennedy's life was enriched by a very special woman, and her name is Vicki Kennedy. For me she is really a mentor of what a wife should be. I've watched her sitting with him, writing speeches. I've watched her at weekend retreats. I've watched her fill his life with love, companionship, and understanding.

And I know a little bit about what the last months of a cancer victim are like. And I can only say to her that we will do everything we can in this body to end cancer in our lifetime.

Yes, Ted Kennedy leaves very big shoes, shoes that probably will never be filled in quite the same way. A family that will probably never be replicated.

I want to end my remarks with a passage in the Prayer Book of the High Holy Days for Reform Judaism. It was written when I was a teen-ager by a young rabbi that I very much admired.

I'd like to share it at this time:

Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
        And then, perhaps, to wisdom;
From weakness to strength
Or strength to weakness-
        And, often, back again;
From health to sickness
        And back, we pray, to health again;
From offense to forgiveness,
From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude,
From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding-
From fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat-
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
     A sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage –
To life everlasting.

Ted Kennedy leaves a giant legacy in this body, and we should not forsake it.

Thank you very much, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”