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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

An Evening with Ted Kennedy

Posted August 26, 2009

It was a steamy evening in McLean, Virginia in May of 1983. The air conditioning at Hickory Hill was not working very well. Ethel Kennedy brought about a bunch of breeze box fans to cool the dinner guests at her sprawling home. I was there with a handful of journalists. We had been invited for "An Evening with the Kennedys."

I was news director for WRAL FM at the time and served as executive producer for a multi-part news series titled "Five Faces of Poverty." This series won first place in the annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards competition in the radio category. It was an evening I will never forget.

After nervously sipping a glass of wine and nibbling on some hors d'oeuvres I felt a hearty slap on my back. I turned around and there he was. "Bill, I'm Senator Ted Kennedy and I wanted to personally congratulate you and the crew at WRAL in Raleigh for an outstanding series on the problems with poverty in your state." We went on to discuss North Carolina politics including his running battles with Senator Jesse Helms. While he disagreed with Helms on most political issues Kennedy said "I do admire his (Helms') tenacity."

There were six of us from WRAL Radio at Hickory Hill. Each of us received an impressive bronze bust of Bobby Kennedy for our news series. Bobby's brother Ted handed out the busts. Mine is still prominently displayed at my home in Cary.

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  • blytle Aug 26, 2009

    No matter what you think of the man or his politics, this is not the time to be rude.

  • ma2345 Aug 26, 2009

    An evening with Ted. I bet that was about as exciting as watching you play guitar.

  • LMRA Aug 26, 2009

    WOW Bill . . . that must have been such a special evening. I always wondered what it would be like to meet them, spend some time with them, maybe get to know a little about them as people - not just "The Kennedys."

    I admire the Kennedy family for many reasons (and I know a lot of people don't like them for the very same reasons) but their dedication to public service is what inspired me to study government and chose public service as my career.

    I made my way to Cape Cod about 15 years ago and I found a small pier close to their house in Hyannis. I stood there for a few minutes. I must have looked silly just standing there. I took a few pictures and thought about all the sadness and the joy that house has seen.

    I'm disappointed he didn't live to cast a vote on health care reform. I think that would have been one of the more exciting moments in the history of the Senate.

  • ICTrue Aug 26, 2009

    lol....An evening with Ted Kennedy...I'm surprised you can remember it.

  • blytle Aug 26, 2009

    Wow, Bill, what an amazing story. I never met him, but I do have an interesting story about him. When John Edwards was first elected to the Senate, I had an opportunity to attend a gathering in his honor. (I know he's not the most popular person now, but this is a good story.) He told me that he was surprised to see that Senator Kennedy's desk in the Senate was way up on the back row where all of the freshman Senators sat. When Edwards asked him why he was sitting up there instead of down front where his seniority would have allowed him to be, Edwards said that Senator Kennedy opened his desk drawer, and inside (I don't think they were carved, but in dark ink) were the initials of his brother, John F. Kennedy. That's where he had sat as a freshman Senator and his brother kept that desk during his long Senate career as a tribute to him. It shows that family honor ranked much higher than senatorial ego!

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