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***BREAKING NEWS*** Ted Kennedy remembered

'Liberal Lion' of U.S. Senate had impact here

AP photo In a May 21, 2008 file photo, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his wife, Victoria, sit at the helm of their sailboat "Mya" at the Hyannisport Yacht Club. (click for larger version)
August 26, 2009


Southbridge Town Councilor Laurent McDonald has never forgotten his first impression of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

"I was always impressed with all of the Kennedys," he said, of first meeting Kennedy while helping to coordinate former President John F. Kennedy's run for the highest office.

Edward M. Kennedy, a Democratic senator for about 47 years, died late Tuesday night at his Hyannis Port home after a year-long bout with brain cancer. He was 77.

Kennedy's death left local officials who worked with or met him during the course of his political career saddened, but also elicited memories of a man who truly cared about his state.

Former Southbridge Town Manager Michael Coughlin forged a close relationship with Kennedy through the latter's efforts to open the Department of Defense (DOD) facility here.

"It was the highest honor of my career to be able to work with Ted Kennedy," Coughlin said by telephone Wednesday morning. "He became a good friend. He really cared and had a warm spot in his heart for Southbridge."

Indeed, despite staunch opposition in D.C. and even locally, Kennedy pushed the $89 million DOD project forward. It opened in 2001.

Coughlin recalled one particular visit by Massachusetts' senior senator in 1996 for an event promoting the DOD and the fiberoptics industry.

Afterward, said Coughlin, a reception was held at Admiral TJ O'Brien's in Sturbridge. The senator took part, at one point telling Coughlin he had talked enough.

"He grabbed the microphone from me and began singing a couple Irish songs," Coughlin said.

No matter where you stand on the DOD facility, said Coughlin, "I think people know the reason there's any facility is because Ted Kennedy went to the White House in May 1994 and got the deal done.

"It's very unique that so many political chips were played for a community so small."

State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, remembered Kennedy for his efforts on behalf of the National Heritage Corridor in the Blackstone Valley.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of Senator Kennedy's untimely death," he said. "He was a tremendous advocate for Massachusetts and for all Americans. In particular, he will always have a special place in the history of the Blackstone Valley and the hearts of Valley residents for his leadership in establishing the National Heritage Corridor.

"He made a significant difference for all Americans, especially through his leadership in health care and he will be greatly missed in the coming national debate on health insurance reform."

Others remembered Kennedy as an advocate for the downtrodden. State Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, said Kennedy fought for causes that benefited the poor in underprivileged, and used his ability to bring people on opposite sides of the political spectrum together to better their lives.

"It is hard to look at this world realizing it doesn't have the great lion of the United State Senate," Brewer said. "What a giant of a man. There are a lot of memories. The little people had a very strong friend in Senator Kennedy."

Despite being well liked and remembered as a wildly successful senator, Kennedy had some dark times in his life. He lost his 1980 bid for the Democratic nomination for president to former President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence and a year's probation after his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969, a former staffer for Robert F. Kennedy. Kopechne, 28, was found dead in Kennedy's car after he drove it off of a bridge on the island of Chappaquiddick in Martha's Vineyard.

The bad times, however, were not how locals remembered Kennedy. Charlton resident William O. Hultgren recalled meeting Kennedy in 1975 when he came to town for the dedication of a plaque in honor of William T.G. Morton. Morton was the first dentist to ever use ether on a patient. Kennedy showed up 15 minutes late as a little girl was reading her speech to a gathered crowd. Seeing the situation, Kennedy let his manners kick in and just politely watched her.

"Immediately after getting out [of his car], he realized what was going on," Hultgren said. "[He was] very dedicated to making sure it was her day as well as his."

Hultgren never forgot the poignant moment.

"It tells me [Kennedy] had common sense for one thing, and compassion for another," he said.

It was precisely that kind of attitude and approach to dealing with constituents and others that impressed McDonald. McDonald said Kennedy was always responsive to any questions he had.

"He never failed to respond to me if I made an inquiry," McDonald said. "He just was a dynamic person."

Kennedy leaves behind his wife Victoria, his daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, and his two sons, Edward Kennedy Jr. and Patrick, who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives from Rhode Island.

Kennedy is no stranger to life and family struggles. Kara Kennedy had a cancerous tumor taken out of a lung in 2003, while Edward Kennedy Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973. Patrick Kennedy had a 1988 bout with a noncancerous tumor in 1988. Earlier, of course, he watched as two of his brothers, President Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, were gunned down by assassins.

Staff writer Walter C. Bird Jr. contributed to this report.

Material from the Associated Press also contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story will appear in the Southbridge Evening News on Thursday, Aug. 27.

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