Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy -- An Appreciation By Ed Slavin

(sent to

I am stunned at the loss of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, my first boss, for whom I worked as a volunteer and paid intern as a freshman and sophomore at Georgetown University from 1974-76.

This morning’s announcement hit me like a ton of bricks, but I did not actually cry until my friend Jamin Rubenstein told me by phone that they were talking about Senator Kennedy and “the bag” on National Public Radio. That’s when I lost it and started crying.

“The bag” in Senator Kennedy’s office was kept by his secretary, Angelique, who had to replace it every couple of months. “The bag” was a battered briefcase that any staff member (even me on a few occasions) could insert reading material, which Senator Kennedy would read by the next business day.

Unlike some other Senators, Ted Kennedy read and read and read --- he was a moot court champion in law school and he was quick on his feet on the Senate Floor and in Committee.

Working for “the liberal lion of the Senate” as my first boss (I was eventually promoted to be paid $53/week for two days a week) was one of the defining moments of my life. I started working for EMK the day before my first class at Georgetown, inspired by Ralph Nader’s speech in Gaston Hall, urging us to be involved in public service.

Senator Kennedy’s work ethic was shared by all who worked for him. I remember the pride I felt in working for him, whether it was working in the mailroom, running errands, helping out the caseworkers and press staff or helping the late, great Mary Murtagh with Massachusetts legislation.
In those fun days in the mid 1970s -- pre-fax, pre-Internet, pre-E-mail days --- the quickest means of transmitting information around Capitol Hill (and Washington, D.C.) was often to send an intern.

The EMK staff soon started calling me “Fast Eddie,” knowing that if they needed something picked up or delivered swiftly, I would do it in a DC minute. Ironically, I was not the best physical specimen – I had survived rheumatic fever and had arthritis, but walking a couple of miles around Capitol Hill for EMK’s staff each Tuesday and Thursday was great therapy.

When Mary Murtagh asked me to help EMK and her to end world whaling, I found it easy to get people to talk to me. “This is Ed Slavin in Senator Kennedy’s office” got your calls returned in a DC minute. We learned that 2/3 of all the whales killed in the world were sperm whales, killed only for the oil in their heads (which makes their meat inedible). We learned there was an exact substitute for the oil in the head of the sperm whale -- jojoba, an oil seed plant that grows in the desert in the Southwest. We encouraged USDA to help Indian tribes and farmers to grow it, although Mary was initially skeptical, joking about “Ed’s ho-ho beans.”

I picked up the telephone and called a Vice President of Archer-Daniels-Midlland and asked if he would buy jojoba. He said there was no market for it. I told him that if he bought it, they’d create a market. I just did a Google® search for jojoba – there were about 2,650,000 entries. By the way, the number of whales killed in the world has plummeted from some 30,000 a year to less than 1000 per year. That was partly due to the 1986 Moratorium and thanks in no small part to Senator Kennedy’s concerns about whaling, as expressed by Mary Murtagh, who empowered a 19-year old , who still had braces on his teeth (that would be me) to help find a cure for pelagic whaling. Jojoba helps employ poor Indians and according to Wikipedia, “Because sperm whales are endangered, plantations of jojoba have been established in a number of desert and semi-desert areas, predominantly in Argentina, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Palestinian Authority, Peru, and the United States. It is currently the Sonoran Desert's second most economically valuable native plant (overshadowed only by the Washingtonia palms used in horticulture). “

Working for Senator Kennedy and his top-notch staff taught me that politics is not only fun and full of laughter, but that politics is “the art of the possible” and that, in playwright Tony Kushner’s words, in "Angels in America," “only in politics does the miraculous occur.”

The legacy of Ted Kennedy, the best Senator ever, was best expressed by JFK, who said, “here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

My heart goes out to the entire Kennedy family as I work through the tears.

Ed Slavin, CIO
Global Wrap LLC
218 Riberia Street, Suite B
St. Augustine, Florida 32084
904-829-5817 (fax)

No comments: