Sentinel reporter recalls dinner with Teddy

The “Lion of the Senate” was a mere cub in November, 1959, when I was his dinner partner in Grand Junction.

Edward Kennedy (whom everybody then called “Teddy”) was in Grand Junction with his brother, John, and the rest of the “Kennedy Irish Mafia” gunning for the presidential nomination.

Teddy, who was then 28 years old,  was undeniably handsome — almost a “pretty boy” — slim and boyish with a toothy Kennedy smile.

I had met him when the Kennedy advance guard came to Grand Junction in September to plan for John’s November speaking appearance at the annual Jane Jefferson Democratic Women’s Club dinner. Then a political reporter for The Daily Sentinel, I was the only press representative at the planning session. I quickly placed Teddy as a neophyte seeking political experience.

The night of the November dinner, a small gathering of invited political luminaries met with John, followed by a larger public reception where John also made a brief appearance. The president of the Jane Jefferson Club had wrangled me an invitation to the private gathering, and Byron “Whizzer” White, the former all-American football star from the University of Colorado, whom President Kennedy later named to the U. S. Supreme Court, asked me if I would be Teddy’s dinner companion.

I can’t recall who else was seated at the table, but the talk was pretty lighthearted, and I remember only one item of conversation — a joke which Teddy told on himself.  He said a man had come up to him and asked if Teddy remembered him. “Being a politician,” said Teddy, “I told him that, of course, I remembered him.” Then the man asked, ”Okay, when and where did I meet you?” And Teddy said he had to admit that he had no idea.

About six months later, at the Democratic state convention in Durango, attended by both John and Teddy Kennedy, I happened across Teddy idling in the hallway. Some perverse imp impelled me to go up to him and say: “Pursuant to our conversation last November in Grand Junction….” I could tell by his eyes that Teddy hadn’t the least idea where or if we had ever met, but he went through the motions of pretending that he remembered me.

The third time I talked with Teddy, he was a U. S. senator and he was with one of his sons and Sen. John Tunney. They were returning to Washington from a river-rafting trip and were waiting to board a plane in the Grand Junction airport. Teddy was in grimy shorts and shirt and looked as though he could use a bath. The adorable little boy attitude was gone, he had put on weight, and his face had begun to assume the craggy, jowly lines that would become the Sen. Kennedy look.

It was probably 1978 or 1979, because I posed the inevitable question of whether he would seek the presidency in the next election and got the inevitable run-around answer. I thought briefly of bringing up the fact that we had met before, then decided that would be a cheap shot.

The final time I saw Teddy, he was speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 in San Francisco. There was no longer talk of his running for the presidency, and I can’t recall that the press paid him much personal attention. Instead, he had finally attained the designation of honored elderly statesman, the title that was to follow him to his death.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson was a reporter for The Daily Sentinel from 1941 through 1985. She now lives in Novato, Calif. 


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