The world is remembering Senator Edward Kennedy this week as a liberal statesman, the last brother of a famous dynasty and one of the longest-serving U.S. senators. He died at his home in Hyannisport late Tuesday night at the age of 77.

The world is remembering Sen. Edward Kennedy this week as a liberal statesman, the last brother of a famous dynasty and one of the longest-serving U.S. senators. He died at his home in Hyannisport late Tuesday night at the age of 77.

Many of us who live on the Cape, however, will remember him for much more. We will remember him as a neighbor and fellow Cape Codder who was drawn to this beautiful place we call home. In times of triumph and tragedy, Kennedy — like most of the famous clan — would retreat to the family compound on a magnificent stretch of land in Hyannisport overlooking Nantucket Sound.

The compound, where President John F. Kennedy owned a home as well as Sen. Robert Kennedy and Joseph and Rose Kennedy, was often the site for family weddings and events – including where the family gathered for JFK’s 1960 presidential election celebration. The 6-acre compound has played a central role for the family and is now the site where throngs of media and spectators gathered Wednesday morning when news of his death began to spread. 

Like his brothers and sisters, Kennedy often spoke of his love for the Cape — his joy in sailing on the waters off Hyannisport and family times spent at the compound. I had seen Kennedy many times over the years doing ordinary things the rest of us do on a regular basis — attending Mass, voting and enjoying the annual Pops by the Sea concert hosted every year by the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod.

It always surprised me how ordinary this giant in politics really was. He often sat in one of the back rows at Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, never seeking out a more prominent seat. He was often with his wife, Vicki, or one of his children, nieces or nephews. It was not unusual to be at a Sunday Mass and see any number of Kennedys occupying pews at Our Lady of Victory, the site just two weeks ago for Eunice Kennedy Shriver's wake.

He always took time after Mass to talk to people, shake their hands and in this era of technology, pose for a picture with someone's camera phone.

On a couple of voting days, I stood behind him as we waited to cast our ballots at Hyannis West Elementary School. He would shake hands with election workers, chat with voters — seemingly getting every last vote. He always attracted lots of attention and even for simple tasks like voting, he was in the glare of the media spotlight.

At the Pops by the Sea concerts, he was ever the gracious host, meeting with guest conductors, chatting with dignitaries and working the crowd just like the rest of us. Although he missed the past two concerts, he always had a table for his family and guests, as did his sister Eunice. It’s hard to imagine neither will be there next year.

Of course, there are thousands of stories and commentaries being written about him this week. Historians have well documented his successes, failures and mistakes. His life story includes major milestones, tragedies such as Chappaquiddick and assassinations and an enduring legacy of tireless work on behalf of working-class Americans and those on the fringes.

But my lasting memories will be of him as a fellow Cape resident. He was a flawed man, like most of us, and he was one of us. Just a whole lot more famous and powerful.

 

Mark Skala is the publisher of GateHouse Media's Cape Cod and Islands region of newspapers and Web sites. He can be reached at mskala@cnc.com