Sen. Orrin Hatch Remembers Ted Kennedy

One of the reasons I ran for the senate was to fight Ted Kennedy, who embodied everything I felt was wrong with Washington. It didn't help matters that we were cut from such different cloth.

I was a Rocky Mountain conservative who toiled nights and weekends to put myself through a public university and law school. Ted was a passionate East Coast liberal who was raised in a world of privilege. I am a Mormon; he was Catholic.

Therefore, we fought often upon my arrival in the Senate. When cigar smoking during committee meetings was in vogue, the degree to which we were fighting was evident by the cloud of smoke Ted would send my way. He would puff away, knowing he was giving me a headache that was more than merely political. (Mormons don't smoke.) For my part, I did my best not to give him the satisfaction of seeing just how irritated I was.

We disagreed on nearly every issue, and continued to do so for all the years we served together in the Senate. But to our mutual surprise, during our service on the Senate Labor, Judiciary, and other committees, we soon realized that we could work well together. If the two of us—positioned as we were on opposite sides of the political spectrum—could find common ground, we had little trouble enlisting bipartisan support to pass critical legislation that benefited millions of Americans.

As the years passed, our legislative achievements piled up. We spearheaded passage of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to provide health insurance to children of the working poor. Our Orphan Drug Act provided tax credits to spur treatment of rare diseases, and the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act improved the availability of care for low-income, uninsured and underinsured victims of AIDS and their families, as did our other two AIDS bills.

There was the Americans With Disabilities Act, which protected individuals with disabilities from discrimination. We also worked successfully to provide more affordable and available drugs to fight diseases such as multiple sclerosis, anemia, etc., over the many years. Earlier this year, we led the fight to secure passage of the Serve America Act. And the list of our legislation enacted into law goes on and on.

Amid our constant fighting and occasional compromises, we also became close friends—a friendship that endeared us to some and enraged others who felt a conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat should not be friends. For our part, we checked our political differences and egos at the door when we socialized. We were good friends, plain and simple—and neither pettiness nor others' opinions came between us.

I remember a time in my life when I was falsely accused of impropriety and was being savaged in the press. At the same time, my father, Jesse, was dying, and he slipped away in the midst of this tumult.

Sadly, many of my Senate colleagues avoided me until I was cleared of all wrongdoing. But not Ted Kennedy. He called and consoled me, talking about his struggle to come to terms with the death of his father and brothers. Concerning the press battles, he said, "Ah, Orrin, everyone knows you did nothing wrong. Everything will work out." He was the only one, Republican or Democrat, who did that.

When Ted's mother, Rose, died in January 1995, I flew to Massachusetts unannounced to attend the funeral and pay my respects to this grand matriarch. Upon my arrival, I slipped into the cathedral as unobtrusively as I could and tried to sit in the back. But Ted and the rest of the Kennedy family heard I was there and motioned for me to sit with them. When my own saintly mother, Helen, died two months later, Ted and his wife, Vicki, flew to Salt Lake City for the funeral. That meant a lot to me and my wife, Elaine, and other members of the Hatch family.

Everyone knows what a consummate lawmaker Ted was, but few knew that he was a great father and family man. He loved and doted on his children, nephews, and nieces. And he adored Vicki, who brought so much light and love into his life. During a speaking engagement in Los Angeles, I remember fielding a call from the senator. "Orrin," he said, barely able to contain his enthusiasm, "I've met the most wonderful woman. We are getting married, and I wanted you to be the first to know." Five years later, he called me from his boat on their fifth wedding anniversary. He had just played Vicki the song I wrote for them for the occasion and called to tell me about how much she loved it.

There were many other significant milestones over the years. We shared many laughs and more than a few disappointments. Through good times and bad, whether we agreed or disagreed politically, I found Ted Kennedy to be an honest, decent, and honorable man and a loyal friend. Like our mutual friend Hubert Humphrey, he was a happy warrior who was valiant and gracious in victory and defeat. He loved his country, home state, and colleagues—and Americans from all walks of life and political persuasions learned to love and respect him in return.

My heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Vicki and other members of the Kennedy family during this difficult time. Oh, how we all shall miss this wonderful man, this "Lion of the Senate."

There is no patent pending for Ted Kennedy. He was an American original. I will forever treasure his memory. And I join my Senate colleagues, Massachusetts residents, and a grateful nation in saluting his service.

God bless my friend Ted Kennedy.