Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's an outpouring of love as Edward Kennedy is laid to rest today. He stirred up feelings on all sides. He was the most natural politician among the Kennedys - charming, funny, self-effacing.

He loved to tell the story of how when he first ran for the Senate, a man on the street asked, Teddy, is it true what they say, you never worked a day in your life? That point in his life, Ted Kennedy had only campaigned for his brother, served briefly as a U.S. Army honor guard in Paris, and gone to law school.

So he said, yes. Well, let me tell you, he said the man told him, you ain't missed a thing.

People liked Teddy Kennedy. He liked doing favors. Great politicians welcome the chance to brighten someone's life by sending them a card, finding them a job, sending a signed baseball to a child. There are people of all stations, parties and persuasions who got calls, comfort and support from Ted Kennedy when they were troubled, sick or grieving.

He knew a lot of loss in his life. He felt a kind of family tie with those who suffered.

We can forget 40 years later why the incident at Chappaquiddick was so damning. An innocent young woman died, he pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident; the judge had said he had behaved negligently. You don't want to judge a man's entire life by a single incident, but when Ted Kennedy let more than nine hours elapse before reporting the accident that took Mary Jo Kopechne's life, and talked to his political advisers before the police, it seemed to fit a pattern of loutish, irresponsible behavior.

Despite his legislative achievements and the growing regard of colleagues, there were other incidents. Some were just tabloid splashes. But in 1991, Ted Kennedy took his son and a nephew to a Palm Beach bar. The nephew was later charged and acquitted of raping a woman he met there.

Senator Kennedy had to stay silent over Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas. As columnist Anna Quindlen put it, he was muzzled by the facts of his life.

That fall, Edward Kennedy told a group at the Kennedy School of Government he'd come to realize that personal failings could damage the good he wanted to do - and even the kind of uncle and father he wanted to be. I recognize my own shortcomings, Ted Kennedy said, the faults and the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.

And eventually, he carved a kind of profile in courage by taking control of his life to lend service to others. As an old friend and antagonist, Bob Dole, said this week, he had flaws and shortcomings, but he had a heart bigger than all outdoors. For that, he will be part of American history for the right reasons.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: You can hear live coverage of the funeral Mass for Senator Kennedy now at NPR.org, where you'll also find stories that take a look at his life and legacy.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small