In 1988 I was serving on the Professional Consultation Committee (PCC) of a local hospital. The PCC was a citizen advisory board to the Department of Spiritual Health with a staff of Clinical Pastoral Educators. More simply put, our committee assisted the hospital chaplains. 1988 was the year Michael Dukakis ran as the Democratic nominee for President. That was the year I first saw Ted Kennedy in person.
The national Clinical Pastoral Educator annual convention was being held at the Raddison Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our local hospital was seeking a new Director of Spiritual Health – it was the PCC that would interview and select the new Director. Two of our committee, myself and another, attended the convention in Minneapolis. Our task was to conduct initial interviews and narrow the field to the three best candidates.
Kitty Dukakis, the wife of the Presidential aspirant, was campaigning in Minneapolis when she suddenly became ill. She was sent to a hospital and the Presidential campaign came to town. By chance, candidate Dukakis stayed in the Raddison where I was a guest. I was completely oblivious to this reality. I had a busy evening the day before and had gone to my room and to bed without checking the news.
My morning ritual while traveling was to get up, shower and shave, and head to the coffee shop with the complimentary USA Today, and enjoy some quiet moments reading. The morning after the Dukakis arrival in Minneapolis I was on track toward the coffee shop. I notice a great commotion on the mezzanine level and was compelled to investigate. The ruckus was caused by an impromptu Democratic Campaign Rally.
I wandered into the mezzanine ballroom, looked around at the crowd, and then walked to the front of the room where a stage was set up. At the podium was Hubert H. Humphrey III, son of the Former Vice President and the 1988 candidate for Minnesota Attorney General. Mr. Humphrey the third was a small man with a squeaky voice – actually this would not have been noticeable if not for the man he was introducing: Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
I don’t know much about Presidential Campaign Security, but I had walked to within twenty feet of the podium. Of course, I had heard about the Kennedy charm and mystique all of my life. People said the Kennedy’s could sell Hot Tamales in the Desert. Senator Kennedy took the podium, directly in front of me, and he could have sold me a whole box of Tamales with tickets to the Sahara. Senator Kennedy was a much larger man than I had imagined. Again, maybe the image was projected because he was standing next to Mr. Humphrey the third.
Senator Kennedy stepped to the microphone and grabbed the audience with a deep and powerful voice, passionate animation with pointing fingers and clenched fists, and a smile that would entice the sirens of the Illiad. I remember being shocked, even after all I had read about the Kennedy charm, with his ability to capture an audience. He certainly captured me.
Small town boys like me from the rural mid west are easy prey for the polished and dynamic Kennedy. I don’t remember what he said – just the way he said it and the way he made me feel. I do remember that Dukakis should never have allowed himself to follow Ted Kennedy at the podium. By comparison Dukakis was a small man, both in physical stature and in presentation.
It would be twenty years before I saw a man who could live up to the introduction of Ted Kennedy. Barack Obama followed Kennedy at campaign events much like the one I attended at the Raddison – and Barack Obama never seemed small in the shadow of Senator Kennedy.
Ted Kennedy personified the saying, “People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
We have lost a great champion for the common man.