Ted and I met in 1963, on our first day as senators, shortly after we took the oath of office. My wife, Marvella, and I were newcomers to the city; he and Joan were newlyweds. We became close initially, I think, because all four of us were trying to get settled in Washington. We would eat dinner at each other's houses, just spending time socializing. As I got to know Ted, he never came across as entitled, as though other senators owed him something because of his brother. He was wise enough to know we were very much at the bottom in the terms of Senate rank. At the beginning, neither of us were leaders; we were both followers.
In 1964 Ted invited me up to the Massachusetts State Democratic Convention, where he was going to accept his renomination. The debate on the Civil Rights Act had gone on and on, so we took a plane in the late evening. The weather had completely disintegrated, and it was very difficult to see. The plane crashed in Massachusetts, a mile and a half from landing.
Ted was seriously injured in the crash. He spent much more time recovering in the hospital than I did, so I made a number of trips to check on his health. One time, I brought him the biggest, nicest strawberries I could find; I knew from dining with him that they were one of his favorite dishes. When I got to the hospital, Ted was on a big, circular frame, where they could turn him without moving his body. We had difficulty getting him in position where he could eat the strawberries, but we managed to do it. He was so grateful, so upbeat. He thanked me again and again.
That's how Ted dealt with every situation: courageously, never letting his pain hold him back. He and Joan invited Marvella and me up to Hyannisport a little while later. When we got there, Ted was wearing a big brace around his back. We took a swim in the ocean together and he was apologizing for his limitations, telling me that he hoped he wasn't slowing me down. I thought, with my poor swimming skills, that I was going to be a limitation on him. We talked about 1964--he still intended to run again. The injuries were not going to stop him. When Ted returned to the Senate, he received a standing ovation. He impressed all of us with his capacity to use the adversity he faced to fortify his character and leadership.
Ever since the plane crash, I don't know that Ted Kennedy took a step that didn't have some pain. But he's the only person I've seen tolerate it and handle it in such a way that it never destroyed his pleasant personality and strength to lead.
After his illness in 2008, I saw the same resolve I had witnessed after the crash: Ted hanging tough, a smile on his face, resolute in his determination and not letting anything stop him from enjoying life.