The Steadfast Wind In the Senator's Sails

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

She wanted the wind at his back. He just wanted to get in the boat.

When Ted Kennedy was released from the hospital after doctors diagnosed a malignant brain tumor, he was determined to keep a date racing his beloved 50-foot schooner in Cape Cod's annual Figawi competition Memorial Day weekend. He sadly told reporters his participation was unlikely; his wife, Victoria, walking beside him on the dock, good-naturedly chastised them for even asking.

No way, his wife thought, was he going to get stuck out in the bay, with no wind, after undergoing a brain biopsy. The forecast called for flat seas and not a whisper of a breeze. Vicki Kennedy wouldn't budge. And then . . . a gust!

"So did you see the wind reports?" he asked her hopefully Saturday morning, recounted a family friend. "Southwest winds up to 25 miles per hour . . . "

She threw up her hands.

"Okay," she said, "let's do it."

Victoria Reggie Kennedy has been the 76-year-old senator's first mate in sailing, and in life, for 16 years, and in that role she has provided both ballast and adventure. By all accounts, she is Ted Kennedy's principal handler, closest political adviser and now his primary caregiver, juggling his large extended family and his political network, and managing his complicated medical treatment as he battles a potentially deadly cancer. Together, they have been talking to doctors all over the country to determine the best course for him.

Two weeks ago, when Ted Kennedy fell ill at their Hyannis Port home, Vicki Kennedy knew in a split second that whatever was happening was grave. As the wife of one of the most iconic and admired politicians in modern history, she also knew it would play out in public. Knowing the media would be tipped off in minutes because of the 911 call, Vicki Kennedy worked her cellphone at her husband's side. Before the ambulance pulled up, she had arranged for the senator to be transported from the Cape to Massachusetts General Hospital, called his Senate staff to put in place a crisis management team, summoned family members and notified his closest friends.

By the time camera crews clustered outside the Boston hospital, the couple's five children and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg were front and center.

"She is a very strong woman and she is 100 percent in control of her husband's care," said Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Kennedy's closest friend in the Senate. It was Vicki Kennedy who personally called Dodd the day after the Kennedys received the grim news that the senator did not have a stroke -- but had a malignant brain tumor.

"It was a very emotional conversation," said Dodd.

Tough, funny, warm, and no-nonsense, Vicki Kennedy is seen by her husband's friends as the soul mate who anchored his life in ways that eluded him after the tragic deaths of his brothers John and Robert. "I always say to her, 'You know, you made his life,' " said the couple's friend Heather Campion, "and she says, 'He made mine.' "

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