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Landon Lecture Series on Public Issues

The Landon Lecture Series
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Edward M. Kennedy

Edward M. Kennedy

U.S. senator, Massachusetts

Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy, born on February 22, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts was the youngest brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. He was elected to the Senate when he was 30 and continued to work in Congress throughout his life. Though marked by scandal, he was viewed as an icon of political progressivism and liberal thought by the time of his death in 2009.

Edward "Ted" Moore Kennedy was born in Boston, Massachusetts on February 22, 1932, coincidentally the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, as the youngest of nine children. Kennedy grew up in a privileged, Irish Catholic family steeped in tradition. His mother, Rose Fitzgerald, was the daughter of Boston mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald. His father, millionaire businessman Joseph P. Kennedy, held many important posts in and out of government.

As a result, the family moved frequently to accommodate Joesph's various posts. The children also changed schools often; by the age of 11, young Ted had already transferred schools 10 times. Despite his busy job, Joseph was careful to put his family first, always writing letters and sending telegrams when he was away, and welcoming any interruptions to his work that had to do with matters involving his children.

Ted's mother, Rose, was the member of the family who enforced a high level of academic performance in her children. Both parents, however, discouraged idleness and emphasized the importance of healthy competition and success. Dinner was often the staging ground for various quizzes on politics, history, and literature. Discussion and debate were highly encouraged. This taught Ted at an early age to immerse himself in his education and worldly pursuits. "If I wanted to contribute something worthwhile to the conversation, I would have to talk about a book I was reading or an interesting place I had visited," he later said about his time at the Kennedy dinner table.

But Ted preferred sports to academics and lagged behind his brothers and sisters in school performance, so he learned other ways to hog the spotlight. He quickly became the family jester and an extrovert, always cracking jokes, planning family outings, and charming strangers with his friendly nature. As the baby he also developed a close emotional bond with both his parents. Their soft spot for their youngest child also took the pressure off of him to perform as rigorously as his elder siblings. This sense of lowered expectations would later haunt Kennedy as he tried to make his way into the professional world.

Tragedy would also mar Kennedy's early life. In 1941, his father secretly had his older, developmentally delayed sister Rosemary lobotomized. The operation failed, and the family had her permanently institutionalized. Several years later, in 1944, brother Joe, Jr. was killed when his plane was shot down.

Edward M. Kennedy
Landon Lecture
Jan. 30, 1984

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