Religion and a strong family are key to inspiration, Kennedy says.
Ted Kennedy: Well my great inspirations in my life are sort of two forces.
One was religion, which is very, very important – particularly for my mother and father, but also for the members of our family. And it’s been incredibly important in terms of my life, particularly facing some of the real challenging times that I’ve had to face – members of my family that have been lost and other kinds of tragedies.
And also the role of family. We are a large family. I was the youngest of nine, the last to come along. I sat at the little table on the side of the room; always had to battle to get my views across or to be able to express it.
But I had extraordinary role models. My father [Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.], who was very ambitious for his children and was a great supporter; a mother [Rose Fitzgerald] who was the safe haven, devoted to her faith and also the love of history. And her children, my older brothers, who were great heroes of mine and who were inspiring figures all the way through my life; also demonstrated to me that the political process could work and could be responsive to people’s needs and challenges.
My sisters who, in their own way, were not elected to any office, but also were very important in terms of their own commitment in expanding opportunity for people. My sister Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, now in 144 countries. They’re going to be world-focused; in China in just a few weeks from now. My sister Jean [Kennedy Smith] who worked for very special arts programs, which has been so important in helping people with disabilities and also who are artists to work and collaborate together.
And my other sisters. And I was also inspired by an older sister, Rosemary, who was mentally retarded. She was a very important figure in our family and she was very included. And I think from the earliest days I recognized that she was a rather special individual, and I can see how my mother and father, and how my brothers and sisters reacted to her. And I think it was probably an extraordinary force in my life about recognizing the value and the special grace that individuals have that have physical challenges – in this instance, mental retardation – and the importance of their value and what they could give to the family. And also the recognition that people out there in our society have special needs. And as a family, and as a country, and a society, we ought to be able to try and reach out to our fellow citizens and respond to those kinds of human needs.
Recorded on: September 14, 2007