Kennedy Still Fighting After Seven Consecutive Senate Terms

Half a century later, Kennedy remains tied to Harvard

David E. Stein

Kennedy keeps his eye on the ball at a Harvard-Dartmouth football game.

When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, D.-Mass, took Richard J. Clasby ’54 skiing in the winter of their freshman year, the future leader of the Democratic Party was in top form, keeping Clasby on his toes from the very beginning.

Though Clasby says he had never really downhill skied before, Kennedy took him above the top of the ski lift in Waterville Valley, N.H., leaving the newcomer no choice but to ski down the 2000 foot mountain.

“He thrived on the challenge,” Clasby recalls about Kennedy. “You couldn’t do hardly anything without a challenge.”

Kennedy’s thirst for adventure is hardly the only quality that suited him to a long career in politics. Jeff Coolidge ’54, who has helped Kennedy brainstorm bills in the Senate, says that the senator knows how to entertain a crowd—and, just as significantly—how to keep friends.

“He deals with all [his] friends very straight and equally,” Coolidge says. “He must have thousands of us and...he’s always there, he’s always listening, always ready to help out.”

Judging by the relative ease with which Kennedy has won seven consecutive terms in the Senate, he seems to be friends with all of Massachusetts’ six million residents. Over the course of his 42 year Senate career, Kennedy has become a prominent liberal legislator—fighting for civil rights and affordable health care—and a senior statesman in the Democratic Party. He inherited the role from his two older brothers, President John F. Kennedy ’40 and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy ’48, after they were both assassinated.

Though his career was threatened when he was implicated in the death of a young aide in Chappaquiddick, Mass. in 1969, Kennedy escaped with a minor conviction and was re-elected to the Senate in 1970. Over the next two decades he was perennially mentioned as a candidate for president, but has each time opted not to run.

FRESHMAN FOOTBALL

From his freshman year onwards, football was the cornerstone of Kennedy’s life in college.

Kennedy’s Wigglesworth C-21 roommate, Austin C. Flint ’54, remembers hardly seeing Kennedy, who played defensive end for the freshman football team in fall 1950 and trudged across the Charles every afternoon to football practice.

Clasby, an all-American tailback, says that freshman football—more than today’s varsity athletics—led to lasting friendships among the teammates.

“There’s a closeness to the freshman situation,” Clasby says. “That’s really where you got to know a lot of people and got to know them very well.”

Kennedy was not the only member of the 1950 freshman football team to join the Senate—John C. Culver ’54 represented Iowa for one term after serving for a decade in the House of Representatives.

Culver, fullback in the Harvard Hall of Fame, recalls Kennedy dedicated himself to football with complete disregard for his personal welfare.“In order to improve his tackling...after practice—without his pads—he would work on trying to tackle Clasby,” Culver recalls.

Clasby says Kennedy’s antics were more in play than in practice, but he remembers at least one thing about the tackling: “He always remembered when he didn’t tackle me,” Clasby says.

Before Kennedy could move up to the varsity team with his classmates came freshman year final exams.