Skip to content

Kennedy Notes Recapture the Past

Here is a glimpse of the making of senator Ted Kennedy's memoir.

In the weeks preceding the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy from brain cancer at age 77 on August 25, the publisher of Kennedy's years-in-the-making autobiography (True Compass: A Memoir) revealed that the book draws freely on some notes Kennedy initially believed had been lost to time.

"In researching True Compass," Twelve publisher Jonathan Karp informed the editor of AARP The Magazine on August 5, "Senator Kennedy discovered notes he had taken nearly 50 years ago, during JFK's presidential campaign. The notes brought back incredibly rich memories, now captured in the book—about riding a bronco at a rodeo in Montana, being cajoled into his first ski jump in Wisconsin, and giving a stump speech in support of the program that eventually became Medicare."

Even back then, Kennedy was championing the cause of health care reform. And as Boston Globe correspondent Martin F. Nolan reminded readers in his definitive August 26 obituary of the "last lion" of the Senate, Senator Kennedy's dogged legislative campaign dates at least to December 1969, when he proposed on the Senate floor that the nation "move now to establish a comprehensive national health care insurance program.' "

Much of Kennedy's appeal in his later years stemmed from the grace with which he faced up to his thwarted political ambitions. In a speech at the August 1980 Democratic National Convention, for example, he conceded that year's presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter with moving words that would become a sort of mantra: "...the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die!' "

When doctors detected a malignant tumor in Kennedy's brain in May 2008, he valiantly opened battle on a second—and infinitely more personal—health front. Despite undergoing surgery the next month, the steadfast Kennedy stood before delegates gathered at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 to renew his pledge in health-care reform as "the cause of my life." Kennedy had "new hope," he told convention-goers, "that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American—north, south, east, west; young, old—will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege."

The events of the coming months will decide whether health care becomes a right or remains a privilege. In the near term, readers can take the measure of the man themselves by consulting True Compass (, scheduled to appear on September 14 with an announced first printing of 1.5 million copies. Signed limited-edition copies will be available by mid-October.