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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Remembering Senator Kennedy

Ted Kennedy was a true leader in the United States Senate. While other senators played politics, he rose above them to pursue the causes he was passionate about and reached across the aisle to team up with Republican Senators like Orin Hatch (R – UT). After the death of his brother Bobby, he assumed the leadership of the Kennedy clan and did so with dignity for more than forty years. He overcame the disappointments of his younger years, including the tragic deaths of his brothers and the sad events at Chappaquiddick Island, to become the finest Senator in the United States.

I vividly recall our meeting exactly ten years ago when Medtronic was working to gain his support. A FDA reform bill that enabled patients to receive life-saving medical technology was up for consideration, and Senator Kennedy’s office was the last stop before the legislation was signed into law. Prior to the meeting I waited in a room just off his office that was filled with Kennedy memorabilia. I was there just long enough to soak in the connections with historical events of the world over the past forty years. Ever the negotiator, Kennedy started off by saying, “Well, Mr. George, it looks like we have resolved five of our seven points [which we had previously conceded in his favor]. If you can see these last two points our way, we have a deal.” I patiently explained that these were the two most important points of the bill and that eliminating them would emasculate the legislation. After some thoughtful exchanges, he graciously agreed to accept our position. Two days later President Clinton signed the bill into law.

The United States Senate has lost a great leader who cannot easily be replaced. His life’s story validates the premise that out of tragedy can come greatness.  Ted Kennedy learned from earlier events in his life and devoted the last forty years to serving his country with dignity and honor.