George Stevens Jr., longtime producer of the Kennedy Center Honors and a Kennedy family friend, shared his thoughts about Ted Kennedy in an interview this afternoon.
"If your father died or your child was sick, you heard from Ted Kennedy. He had this tremendous capacity to be considerate and to understand people in times of difficulty. I don't think i know of anybody who compared with him in that respect. That compassion and understanding was reflected in his life as a senator and what he achieved."
Kennedy, Stevens said, was a big supporter of the arts, serving on the board of the Kennedy Center from the very beginning and "tremendously instrumental" in its continuing success.
"He said that if he had an opportunity to come back in another life, he would come back as a tenor. Which is pure Teddy. The tenor wore the great costumes and the tenor got thhe girl."
At the inauguration this year, Kennedy was taken by ambulance after falling ill following the swearing in.
"Two days later my phone rings, and it is the office and it is Ted. He has just looked at the DVD of the Kennedy Center Honors, the first one he was not well enough to attend, and he was going to talk about it."
Stevens first met Kennedy in 1963, at a dinner for freshmen senators.
"Each of the brothers was different. Jack had kind of a touch of irony. Bobby was deeper and more complicated. Teddy was open, with a total absence of cynicism. The Irish capacity for fellowship was an important asset in his life and career."
That was reflected in the birthday tribute paid to him at the Kennedy Center in March.
"He was in relatively good form, and he waited afterward to shake the hands of all of his friends who were there."
In 1968, two days after the burial of Robert Kennedy, Stevens was at Hickory Hill, Kennedy's home. "I remember sitting by the pool next to Sander Vanocur. It was a cloudy, stormy day. [Vanocur] kind of nudged me and pointed. I just remember Teddy, on this gray day, alone in the swimming pool. You just felt the loneliness that must come to a man who loses his brothers in the same, tragic way."
Kennedy was the "go-to" person — "the right person to go to but also so efficient." Stevens recalls attending the wedding of Kathleen Kennedy in 1973, while Ted Kennedy's son, suffering from cancer, was going through surgery to get his leg amputated. Nevertheless, Kennedy showed up to take the bride down the aisle, "leading her into the church with that great smile."
"His life was so full of obligations and activities. He was just a master of balancing that and caring for so many people."