Senator Murray Pays Tribute to Senator Kennedy in Speech on Senate Floor

Sep 10 2009

Remembers 'great battles,' 'small moments,' and 'personal touch'

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(Washington D.C.) –Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered the following remarks on the floor of the Senate paying tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy. Senator Murray served with Senator Kennedy for 17 years in the Senate, including many years as a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee which Senator Kennedy chaired.

“Mr. President, when I was young, Ted Kennedy was larger than life.

“I was just 12 years old when he was first elected to the Senate as the youngest son of a political dynasty that seemed to dominate the TV each night in my house and the newspapers each morning.

“At first he served in the shadow of his older brothers. But as I grew up, the youngest brother of the Kennedy family did too – in front of the entire nation.

“For me and so many others - Ted Kennedy became a symbol of perseverance over tragedy.

“From his walk down Pennsylvania Ave at the side of Jacqueline Kennedy,  to the heartbreaking speech he delivered at his brother Bobby’s funereal, to his pledge to carry on the causes of those who had championed his bid for the Presidency, Ted Kennedy routinely appeared before the American people with great courage at our most trying times.

“And all the while - he was also standing up in this chamber – each day with that same grit and determination – to fight for the people of Massachusetts and the nation.

“On issues from protecting the environment, to civil rights, to increasing the minimum wage, to health care, he was a passionate an unmatched advocate and leader.

“And so it was with a lifetime of watching Senator Kennedy with admiration from afar, that I arrived here as a freshman Senator in 1993.

“By the time I was elected Ted was already well on his way to becoming one of the most powerful and influential Senators of all time.

“So I couldn’t believe it when I first walked out on the floor of the Senate and he walked over to personally welcome me.

“For me that would have been enough – the lion of the Senate reaching out to a rookie – but to Ted Kennedy it wasn’t.

“Through calls to my office, discussions on this floor, and by taking me under his wing on the Senate HELP Committee, he became a friend,  a mentor, and sooner than I could have ever imagined a courageous partner on legislation that I cared deeply about.

“Mr. President, as a state Senator in Washington I had worked hard to successfully change the state laws on family and medical leave.  It was an issue that was personal to me.

“My father had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was very young and since that time my mother had always been his primary caregiver. But a few years before I joined the U.S. Senate, my mother had a heart attack and had to undergo bypass surgery.

“Suddenly, my six brothers and sisters and I were faced with the question of who could take time off to care for the people we love the most, the people who cared for us for so long.

“A family leave policy would have allowed any of us a few weeks necessary to see them through their medical crisis, but none was available.

“So after entering the Senate, the Family and Medical Leave Act was a bill I wanted to stand up and fight for.  And as it turned out Senator Kennedy was managing the Senate bill on the floor - and he too had a personal connection to the bill. 

“One day Senator Kennedy pulled me aside to tell me about how he had spent a lot of time with his son in the hospital fighting cancer, and how he’d met many people who could not afford to take time off and were forced to quit their jobs to take care of loved ones.

“He told me that together we would get the bill passed… and then he showed a rookie how it’s done.

“Week after week he fought against bad amendments to get the votes needed to pass it. He blended just the right mix of patience and passion.

“He spoke out loudly in speeches when he needed to and whispered into the ears of his colleagues when that was called for.  And a few days after Senator Kennedy pledged we would get it done, we did.

“Through that effort, and many more battles on this floor I learned so much from him. And so have all of us.  Because more than almost anyone, Senator Kennedy knew the Senate.

“He knew how to make personal friends, even with those he did not agree with politically. He knew how to reach out and find ways to work with people to get them to compromise for the greater good.  He knew when not to give up.

“He knew when to change the pace or turn the page on to get things done.  He knew when to go and sit down next to you or pick up the phone and call you.  He knew how to legislate. And because of that, he built an incredible legacy.

“And Mr. President, it’s a legacy that will not only live on here in the Senate Chamber where he was so well loved and respected It’s a legacy that will live on in classrooms across America where kids from Head Start to College have benefited from his commitment to opportunities in education.

“On manufacturing floors where he fought for landmark worker safety protections.  In hospitals where medical research that he championed is saving lives every day. In court rooms where the legacy of discrimination was dealt a blow by his years of service on the Judiciary Committee In voting booths where he fought for our most basic rights in a democracy to be protected and expanded for decades.

“And so many more places that where touched by his service, his passion, and his giant heart.

“Senator Kennedy fought for and won so many great battles. But for many of us who worked with him every day it may be the small moments that we’ll remember most. The personal touch he brought not only to legislating but to life.

“Mr. President, as I mentioned before, my mother had to take care of my father for most of his life, his MS confined him to a wheelchair, and she couldn’t leave his side.

“One of the few times she did leave him was when I elected to the U.S. Senate and she came out to Washington, DC to see me be sworn in.

“To my mom, Ted Kennedy and his family were all amazing individuals who she followed closely throughout their lives….through their triumphs, and of course through tragedy.

“After I was sworn in my mother was with me here on the floor, and when it was over we walked back through the halls of Congress and to my office.

“Soon after I got back to my office, Senator Kennedy unexpectedly came over and gave my mom a big hug.  There were tears in her eyes.

“It was clear that the disbelief that she had met Ted Kennedy was overpowering her. It was a moment I will never forget for my mom.  And it certainly is now a moment I’ll never forget with my friend Ted Kennedy.

“I will miss him.  Our country will miss him. But as he reminded us in the courageous speech he delivered last summer in Denver.

“The torch has been passed to a new generation’ and the ‘work begins anew.’

“So today, as we honor all of his contributions to the Senate and the nation, we must also remember to heed that brave final call…. and continue his fight for all those who can’t fight for themselves.

“I yield the floor.”