Ted Kennedy was a member of the Class of 1959 at the University of
Virginia’s law school.
By Karin KapsidelisPublished: August 27, 2009
As Ted Kennedy kept vigil by his brother Bobby's casket on the funeral train traveling to Washington, one of his former law professors from the University of Virginia took a turn sitting with him.
"There was almost a sense of fright apparent in him," said Mortimer Caplin, who had taught both Kennedy brothers at U.Va.'s law school.
The level of responsibility that now was on his shoulders weighed on him, Caplin recalled yesterday. "Suddenly, the kid in the family is the head of the family."
Caplin believes that burden led to the bleak period of well-known personal troubles that followed his brother's assassination in 1968.
"He had a tumultuous life," he said, but Kennedy worked through his problems and became "the king of the Senate" through his commanding presence and skill in getting legislation passed.
Caplin and others who knew Kennedy during his days at U.Va. said it was clear early on that he would make his mark in public service.
Kennedy had a finely developed sense of justice even then, law school classmate A.E. Dick Howard said.
"It was not synthetic," said Howard, a constitutional expert on U.Va.'s law school faculty.
Caplin and Howard said Kennedy was an especially good oral advocate and won a prestigious moot-court victory.
"He was kind of an average paper student, but he was very good on his feet," Caplin said.
Edward M. Kennedy was a son of Massachusetts, but his ties to Virginia were strong. He earned his law degree in 1959 from U.Va., as had Robert F. Kennedy in 1951. Two of Bobby's children also are U.Va. law graduates.
In 1983, Ted Kennedy preached a message of religious tolerance at what then was Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell invited him to speak after Kennedy, through a computer error, had been sent a membership card in Falwell's Moral Majority.
Since 2004, U.Va.'s Miller Center of Public Affairs has worked with the Massachusetts senator on the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project exploring how legislation is made.
"He was a very dear friend -- we were great friends," former Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia said.
Warner said Kennedy was "a great patrician" but will be remembered for his determination to help the less fortunate.
Warner said he and Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, used to joke "how we canceled each other's vote out constantly."
Howard said that ability to reach across party lines was one of Kennedy's great strengths.
"He really is part of an age of bipartisanship that seems to have now faded in Washington," he said.
Lauren Bell, a political science professor and associate dean of Randolph-Macon College, saw how hard the senator worked for those causes while she was on a congressional fellowship from 1997 to 1998.
"He was constantly moving," she said. "He really was a workhorse."
Caplin attributes some of Kennedy's success to his years at U.Va.
"He grew up significantly there," he said.
Kennedy graduated from Harvard after being suspended from there for cheating. That was something the law faculty discussed at length, because U.Va.'s honor code is "a deep part of the culture," Caplin said.
But Howard does not recall Kennedy's classmates being concerned.
Kennedy was outgoing and friendly. "It was hard to miss him," Howard said.
Other classmates remembered the partying side of Kennedy in a 1979 Richmond Times-Dispatch article. He drove an old blue Oldsmobile convertible, rented larger quarters than most students, and "he and [his roommate] provided a well-stocked bar at their parties," one recalled.
At U.Va., Caplin saw a more serious side to Kennedy, who threw him a party for his 90th birthday three years ago.
"By the time he came to Virginia, he was very convicted as to how he wanted to lead his life," he said.
Contact Karin Kapsidelis at (804) 649-6119 or firstname.lastname@example.org