John Kerry on Kennedy, the Compassionate Friend

Teddy was the greatest teacher anyone in politics could have asked for. I may not always have been the best student, but he never stopped dispensing lessons.

I came out of activist, grassroots politics, where the coin of the realm was issues and policy positions. Activists sometimes are wired even to look past the personal touch, the emotional connection, for fear it distracts from the agenda. Teddy, through his actions, showed us all just how essential it is. Yes, Tip O'Neill taught a generation of Massachusetts politicians that "all politics is local." But it was Teddy who taught us that all politics was personal.

It was personal when he brought his warm heart to melt the snows of Iowa for me when I was running for president in 2004. Personal because my underdog status wouldn't keep Ted away from keeping faith with a friend and a colleague. But equally personal in the bond between this silver-haired lion and the people of Iowa.

One cold night in a Davenport VFW hall, just two weeks before the caucuses, Ted brought down the house. Recalling his brothers' Iowa races and his own, he bellowed: "You voted for my brother! You voted for my other brother! You didn't vote for me!" And as the crowd roared with laughter, Ted shouted: "But we're back here for John Kerry. And if you vote for John Kerry, I'll forgive you! You can have three out of four … and I'm going to love Iowa. I'm going to love you." And when Ted said it, he didn't just say he'd "love" Iowa, the lion roared that he'd "loooovvve" Iowa!

His incredible love of life and laughter was always in great supply in the Senate. In the cloakroom sometimes, the roars of laughter were so great they could be heard out on the Senate floor. Once, I remember, Ted was holding forth—I will not share the topic—and the presiding officer pounded the gavel and demanded, "There will be order in the Senate—and in the cloakroom."

His pranks were works of art and brilliant calculation. One night, after a long series of Thursday-night votes had pushed senators past time to catch commercial flights home to the Northeast, Sen. Frank Lautenberg arranged for a private plane for himself to get up to Martha's Vineyard. It turned out that a number of senators needed to travel in that direction, and when Frank learned of it, he kindly offered Sen. Claiborne Pell, Ted, and me a ride. There was no discussion of sharing the cost. Everyone thought Frank was being very generous. But the next week, all of us were on the Senate floor for a vote when official-looking envelopes were delivered to us under Frank Lautenberg's signature, with exorbitant expenses charged for the flight. Senator Pell roared down the aisle brandishing the bill. Senator Lautenberg was red-faced, protesting he knew nothing about it, when out of the corner of my eye I spied Ted Kennedy up by his desk—Cheshire-cat grin—so pleased with himself. Mystery solved: Ted had managed to secure a few sheets of Lau-ten-berg's stationery and sent false bills to each of us!

His personal touch wasn't just humorous, it was caring. It was bigger than politics. When George Wallace was wounded in an assassination attempt, the first to visit him was Ted Kennedy. When Joe Biden underwent brain surgery for an aneurysm, the first to board the train to Wilmington was Ted Kennedy. In my first term in the Senate, I came down with pneumonia. I was single, tired, and run ragged, and Ted decided I lacked the kind of care necessary to get well. Next thing I knew, Ted instructed me that I was going to Florida to stay in the Kennedy home in Palm Beach and be cared for until I got well.

In my office is a photograph of the two of us on "Day 1, 1985," my first day in the Senate. Ted signed it, "As Humphrey Bogart would have said, This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." For almost 25 years, it was a beautiful friendship, as I worked at his side, learning from the greatest senator ever.

Over the years, I received hundreds of handwritten notes from Ted, some funny, some touching, all of them treasures. Just before Thanksgiving one year, Ted sent me a note that he would be spending the holiday on the water with his beloved sailboat, the Mya. He wished me a happy holiday, adding, "If you're out on the 'Sound' look for the 'Mya.' She will be there."

I think now I will always be on the lookout for the Mya and her bighearted skipper, who taught me so much about how to steer the right course.