The day we had breakfast at Senator Kennedy’s House

In the 43 years the Monitor has been hosting breakfasts, there never has been a session like the one with Senator Edward Kennedy on March 16, 1980.

Rather than responding to an invitation, the Senator had asked breakfast founder Godfrey Sperling to assemble the group. Rather than hold the gathering at a hotel, Kennedy wanted to meet with the breakfast group at his McLean, Virginia estate. And rather than hold the session during the work week, he wanted to gather on Sunday morning.

Kennedy had announced on November 7, 1979 that he would oppose incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. By the following March, Kennedy’s campaign was in trouble. His session with the breakfast group came just two days before the crucial Illinois primary, where Kennedy got crushed. President Carter won 155 of the 169 delegates.

Dog cavorts during questioning

There was no question of turning down Kennedy’s invitation which “was a real coup,” Sperling said Wednesday. And so it was that the session at Kennedy’s was the only one of the 3,630 breakfasts the Monitor has hosted where we met at a private home rather than a hotel. And it was also the only breakfast where the guest brought his dog. Sperling remembers Kennedy being in good spirits at the breakfast as the Senator’s large dog cavorted around the room during the questioning.

In subsequent years, Kennedy was the guest at several more Monitor breakfasts, four of which I was honored to host. When I would go to the door of the St. Regis Hotel to greet the Senator, his two Portuguese Water Dogs could come bounding out of the van carrying Kennedy. Then they would jump back in and wait for him to return after the breakfast.

Sometimes I would call the Senator’s office and ask if he would meet with us. Other times, Kennedy’s office would call and say the Senator wanted to chat with the group. The last such session was in July 2005 when he wanted to talk about President George Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the US Supreme Court.

In the presence of history

Whatever the Senator’s flaws, it was impossible to be with Kennedy and not sense that you were in the presence of someone who had seen and made a great deal of history. I also had opportunity to witness acts of private generosity and grace.

There was bipartisan appreciation of Kennedy's legislative accomplishments. In July, we had lunch with House Minority Leader John Boehner. Asked about Kennedy’s legacy, the Ohio Republican said, “The thing I got to learn about Ted Kennedy is that he is a legislator. He wants to legislate and he wants to sit down and work out the details. I spent 95 percent of my time in 2001 mostly in a room with him. We got to know each other pretty well. Like each other, get along well. I actually miss him stopping by my office. Since I became leader -- Majority Leader and then Republican Leader -- every once and a while I would look up [and] Senator Kennedy would be standing in the doorway. He came by to check on me."


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