In 2006, I contacted Kennedy’s office to ask a favor for a dear friend who had spent her life caring for children from war-torn environments. Lynn never forgot how Ted Kennedy convinced an international adoption agency in 1973 to let her adopt a half-starved child from what is now North Korea, in spite of the fact that she was young, single and worked full time as a teacher.
She was a very religious person and had spent a year in Zimbabwe, doing mission work, her own version of a year in the Peace Corps. She came home determined to help young children who had been left behind as victims of armed conflict, or were simply unwanted in the first place.
In her mid-twenties, Lynn began adoption procedures while she was engaged to be married, but when marriage plans fell through, she was told didn’t qualify as an adoptive parent.
Determined to adopt a child she had sponsored for through an international charity, Lynn called on the junior senator from Massachusetts for advice. Ted Kennedy talked the agency into letting her complete the adoption.
Thanks to him, she was the first single person in the state to do so. And thanks to him, in 1975 she got special permission to travel to Southeast Asia to bring home a Vietnamese orphan, one of the lucky ones to escape Saigon on one of the last planes out. Later, Lynn adopted more children, all from places rife with war or poverty.
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Near the end of her life, Lynn told me how grateful she was to Ted Kennedy, because he was responsible for the creation of her beloved, multi-cultural family. Without his help, she may never have raised any children at all. She certainly would not have had THESE children in her life. She said she owed him a thank you.
So, nosey person that I am, I called his office and passed along her thanks. It was Wednesday, December 20. Congress was going off on break beginning Thursday, December 21. Still, death was just outside Lynn's door.
One of Kennedy’s aides patiently listened to my entire story, and we discussed ways the senator might reach out to her in her weakened state. The woman understood that time was of the essence, so she took the information to Kennedy and got back to me within a few hours, suggesting he send a letter to her home immediately.
The letter was warm, personal and printed on official heavyweight stationery with a raised golden seal. It was beautiful to see and touch. Ted Kennedy signed it, then the aide stayed late Thursday evening to complete the task. The package went out the next morning from Washington by special courier, arriving Saturday morning, December 23.
Lynn's children and grandchildren were there to read it to her. They said later that, when she heard what he had to say, she smiled for first time in weeks.
Ted Kennedy spoke to her as if he had known her all his life. He said he heard she was ill, and was concerned. He asked about her family and thanked her for spending all of her adult years caring for children, as a mother and a teacher. He told her she was in the thoughts and prayers of “the entire Kennedy family,” called her “a remarkable woman who has dedicated [her] life to helping others” and “an inspiration to us all.”
Lynn asked the kids to read it over and over, and over and over again. Soon, she would slip into a coma.
The letter was framed and placed at the head of an exhibit of memorabilia recounting the story of her extraordinary life, at her wake on New Year's Day. More than 300 people attended her funeral in a small town in western Massachusetts, coming from all walks of life, and from as far away as Boston and New York.
As you can imagine, that little piece of paper galvanized the family's appreciation for what this humble woman accomplished in her life, giving each member something positive to hold onto during a very tense and troubled holiday season.
To me, such a quiet act of generosity was the essence of this complex and controversial man. No constituent was too small, too poor, too unimportant to ignore. Yes, the aide did the heavy lifting, but only because Ted Kennedy let his staff know how he felt about the people he represented.
Lynn was not an important person, by usual standards. She lived a very modest life, way out in the boondocks. As far as I know, Ted Kennedy never met her in person. Yet, he stepped in at the most crucial moments, changing the course of her life for the better. In the same way, everyone in this state was part of Ted Kennedy’s family, and he was part of theirs.