Friday, August 28, 2009

591 Two Deaths

591 Two Deaths

We all have our memories of Sen. Kennedy. How could we not, he's been in public life for, what, 50, 55 years? Most of those memories are from afar. The man who could (and should) have been President. A champion of the poor and disadvantaged. A fighter for universal health care, better insurance, fewer wars, immigration, labor, civil rights, the big stuff, the important stuff. Too much stuff to enumerate here.

From afar, the brother of a murdered president, the brother of a murdered US Senator, the head of one of the country's most prominent families. A hard drinker. Overweight. Father, grandfather. The pluses and the minuses all flash in recollection.

But some of us, reporters, even reporters off the Boston or Washington beat, have close up memories as well, small and unimportant as they may be.

It was late in 1971, maybe early in 1972, when Senator Kennedy kept an appointment at the New York headquarters of the Associated Press, in the fourth floor newsroom at 50 Rockefeller Plaza. Maybe five or six in the evening, just around dinner time. Can't remember the reason. Some project or other he was working on.

So in strides this tall, thin, handsome young man, filled as his brother Jack might say with "viggah." Smiles for everyone. Handshakes all around. He had his fans then and there. Those of us there thought there was a glow around him. Maybe it was just the lousy lighting at 50 Rock. But it looked like a vertical halo.

He was in and out pretty quickly. Must have had a dinner, though he wasn't in formal wear -- so, maybe a working dinner. Maybe catching a Broadway show. No one thought to ask. We didn't ask questions like that in those days, though, surely, he would have given us an answer, as he gave us his full and undivided attention.

In anticipating the visit, we were feeling heavy. "Look what the guy's been through, and at such a young age." That's the kind of comments went floating around.

When he left, we all felt taller. And lighter.

He should be remembered not as the "brother," but a true believer and a true accomplish-er, an idealist and pragmatist at once and a great man in his own right, which he would likely have been even if his name hadn't been Kennedy.

Then, there's Ellie Greenwich, who died a day or so ago of a heart attack at the age of 68. Ellie was a classmate. She was a beautiful young woman and became a star. She wrote "Leader of the Pack." She put together "girl bands." She helped discover Neil Diamond. She worked with Lieber and Stoller and Sinatra and Ella. She was author of such memorable musical ...uh... masterpieces as "De Do Ron Ron," and the center of a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, "Leader of the Pack," that featured her long list of inane but popular songs and "girl bands."

Ellie "got" what women of the era wanted or were about. She was no Ted Kennedy. But her life and death were important. She knew her era and explained it to itself.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009.

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