Visitors find solace at storied office
Many come to see mementos of long career
WASHINGTON - They came quietly to Capitol Hill yesterday, mothers with their children, a group of nurses, a young man in a Boston University T-shirt. Ascending to the third floor of the Russell Building, they filed down a hallway, and entered an office where a plaque announced: Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts.
In this city of myriad monuments, of soldiers and statesmen in their statuary, of schools and fields and arts centers named for various Kennedys, the tribute at the office of the man everyone seemed to call “Ted’’ or “Teddy’’ was a sort of living memorial. Fresh-faced, solemn-looking interns earnestly thanked visitors for stopping by. Color photographs of a vibrant, smiling Kennedy were distributed. Business cards were dispensed, with the senator’s name boldly embossed.
One by one, the guests stooped before a small desk and signed their names in a memorial book. Then, invariably, they gazed at the wall of photos, variously showing a gleaming or grimacing Kennedy, side-by-side with Bill Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton or John F. Kerry - or, in many of them, another Kennedy.
In the quietest moments, it might have seemed like another day at the office, except for the flower-filled vases in a sun-dappled window, and a wall-mounted television that showed scenes of the journey of Kennedy’s body from Hyannis Port to Boston.
Lynn Mitchell, 42, came from a Maryland suburb with her daughter, Skylar, 12, and son, Elijah, 9. Mitchell said she has never forgotten how her mother talked about coming from New York to pay respects to President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated, and she wanted to pay tribute to the senator.
“In my whole lifetime, there’s always been a Senator Ted Kennedy in the Senate,’’ Mitchell said, standing at the entryway to Kennedy’s office. “I want my children to understand and pay respect to this honorable American.’’
She told her children about Kennedy’s accomplishments on civil rights, health care, immigration, and minimum wage. Elijah said he had absorbed the message: “He’s a very thoughtful man and he did a lot for this country.’’
Many of the visitors said they venerated Kennedy for his focus on overhauling the nation’s health care system, and some expressed concern about what his death would mean for the cause.
Paula Charette, 55, of Fort Kent, Maine, was one of several nurse practitioners spending part of the summer in Washington, focusing on health care issues. She has been meeting with legislators and their aides, and had hoped to talk with Kennedy.
“He was a leader, of course, to us, being a big part of the health care reform,’’ she said. “That was his passion, his life, and I’m hoping that his dream for our country is able to go through.’’
“It’s going to be more difficult’’ to pass health care legislation now, she said, but she hoped people would be galvanized by the renewed focus on Kennedy and embrace his goals.
Sandy Gotch, a nurse practitioner from Houston, was among numerous visitors who said the news of Kennedy’s death had hit hard. “We were devastated,’’ she said. “We felt like we’d lost a champion.’’
Quinn Nii, a 34-year-old who wore a Boston University T-shirt, had recently visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and was moved by Kennedy’s death to visit his office here.
He lingered for many minutes, gazing at a giant portrait of Kennedy, which hung on the wall between two desks manned by Kennedy aides, and clutched one of the photographs given out as a memento. The office walls served as a timeline of the last half-century, intertwining the story of the Kennedys with the history of the country.
One of the framed hangings seemed particularly poignant. It contained five buttons with photos of Kennedy, progressively aging over the years, his hair turning gray and then white. The buttons were tagged by decades, starting with Kennedy in the 1960s. They ended in the “00s.’’
Michael Kranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.