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Manatee remembers Kennedy the 'fighter'

MANATEE — Sen. Ted Kennedy’s closing remarks at the 1980 Democratic National Convention took on a fresh poignancy for those who knew him in Manatee and Sarasota.

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” Kennedy said 29 years ago.

Asked her thoughts Wednesday on Kennedy’s death from brain cancer, Rhea Chiles said, “I just hope he is able to do something from heaven on health care. He worked on it so hard all his life.”

Chiles got to know Kennedy when her late husband, Lawton, was a U.S. senator from Florida.

“By the time we went to Washington, he was a very high-profile person. It was always exciting to be around Ted. I guess I never got over being awed by those people. When he came on the Senate floor, there was always a little buzz that ran through the gallery,” Chiles said.

“He was such an affable fellow. He was wonderful with everyone,” she added. “Contributing to his effectiveness as a senator was his endurance, and his ability to work through the challenges of life.”

Ed Price Jr. of Bradenton, a former Florida senator, said he first met Ted Kennedy in Los Angeles when John Kennedy was nominated in 1960 as Democratic candidate for president.

“I got to know Robert and Ted Kennedy at the same time,” Price said. “When I knew him, he was the younger brother and pretty much a kid. He had a real outgoing personality and was extremely family-oriented.”

Ted Kennedy’s reputation would later be hurt by the incident at Chappaquiddick, when he drove off a bridge and an aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, died.

The tragedy resurfaced years later when Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1980.

“I was a rooting supporter of Jimmy Carter. He (Kennedy) distressed all of us when he decided to run against Jimmy Carter,” Price recalled Wednesday.

Price said only four senators ever served more than 40 years, and Kennedy served for 47.

“He’ll go down as very strong fighter who stood for what he believed,” Price said. “He fought hard for universal health care. He was willing to forgo partisanship and join hands with Republicans with like minds to try to pass legislation.

“Condolences to the family because they just got through losing his sister (Eunice Shriver) you know. It’s the passing of an era in politics in our country.”

Ed Zipp, who helped provide some of the security for Kennedy in the early 1970s when the senator visited New Bedford, Mass., said it was an exciting experience for an 18-year-old.

“I initially loved him, too,” Zipp said.

Joycene Harwood, Democratic state committeewoman for Manatee County, said she worked on Capitol Hill in the late 1970s and met Kennedy several times.

“He was very well-respected by staff and the other senators,” Harwood said. “He was a good man. It broke my heart this morning when we realized he had died. We’re all very sad that he’s gone now.”

Rita Ferrandino, chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Party, issued a statement asking “that we honor the life of one of this country’s greatest public servants by passing meaningful health care reform legislation.”

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