Edward M. Kennedy Left Major Imprint on Life in D.C.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, students and teachers gathered around the flagpole outside Brent Elementary School on Capitol Hill to remember one of their own.
Third-grader Larenai Swann, 8, held his photograph, which normally hangs in the school office.
The beefy, silver-haired man in the photo was a faithful friend who showed up every Tuesday, often with his dogs, and read to youngsters such as Larenai in the quiet of the library.
He was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a titanic figure on the world stage but also a devoted Washingtonian who was in many ways one of its citizens.
He wrote a children's book, in the voice of his Portuguese water dog, Splash, about his job in Washington, where he brought his dogs to work. And he was on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named for his slain brother, and attended the dinners for the Kennedy Center Honors.
The center's president, Michael M. Kaiser, said Wednesday that it owes much to his leadership. Kennedy mostly loved Broadway musicals, Kaiser said, and was often known to sing along.
Kennedy was part of the Washington social scene, with its emphasis on politics. He spoke at a fundraising roast for a scholarship program honoring Democratic spinmeister Frank Mankiewicz and attended the Best Buddies ball hosted by his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband, Sargent Shriver. He famously spent $10,000 one night to host a group at political watering hole Sam & Harry's. A few years ago, he gave a feisty speech at a farewell tribute for outgoing Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) at the National Building Museum.
A favored restaurant was Bistro Bis, in the Hotel George on Capitol Hill, where Table 23 was known as the Ted Kennedy Booth.
He was there mostly for lunch. General manager Sean Applegate called him a down-to-earth guy but with charisma. "You feel like you're in the presence of royalty," he said. Favorite foods: liver and onions, mashed potatoes and scallops.
But Kennedy spent much of his free time locally with family and friends. He attended the city's Roman Catholic churches, went to his stepchildren's ballgames and helped raise money for the city's Catholic schools.
"The fact that the person whose family had given so much to this country was a part of helping these urban Catholic schools was quite a miracle for me," said Mary Anne Stanton, the former director of a consortium of the District's Catholic schools.
Kennedy had a palatial home in Kalorama and was known for his holiday parties.
"We got to know each other very well," said Steven "Spike" Karalekas, who has lived across the street on Tracy Place NW for the past 14 years.
"He moved in six months after we did, and I used to joke with him saying this is the Republican side of the street, since I used to work for President Nixon," Karalekas said Wednesday.
Karalekas said the two men became friends, sharing time together on Kennedy's boat in Hyannis Port, Mass., or at the senator's legendary masquerade parties, where Kennedy would dress up as the Easter Bunny or Peter Pan. One year he dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur and performed a racy skit with his wife, Victoria.
But Karalekas also remembered when Kennedy returned from the funeral of his nephew, John F. Kennedy Jr., who was killed in a plane crash in 1999.
"I went out to get a Sunday paper," Karalekas said. "He was just getting ready to leave to go to church and he spotted me and called my name. I . . . said, 'Teddy I just want to tell you how sorry' . . . and before I could finish, he said, 'Please don't finish the sentence because I will cry. I just want to give you an Irish hug and say goodbye.' "
In some ways, Washington might have haunted the senator and his family.
His assassinated brothers, President Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, just across the Potomac River.
The senator occasionally worshiped at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on Rhode Island Avenue NW, where President Kennedy's funeral Mass was said Nov. 25, 1963. A large memorial in the floor marks the spot where the president's coffin rested.
"The senator visited and went to Mass in various parishes in the city," said Monsignor W. Ronald Jameson, the pastor. "One of the places he came was here at St. Matthew's. I remember especially the 40th anniversary of John Kennedy's death. We had a special Mass here, and the senator and Mrs. Kennedy were here."
But Kennedy is perhaps best remembered in Washington for his devotion to the city's schoolchildren.
"To see someone so powerful" reading to elementary school students "was amazing," said Lavanya Poteau, congressional and volunteer coordinator for the reading program Everybody Wins! DC.
Wednesday afternoon, as the Brent Elementary children assembled outside in their green and white uniforms, and Larenai Swann held the picture, the school's brand-new American flag was flown at half-staff.