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Tribune Editorial: Kennedy's service deserves recognition

The name Edward "Ted" Kennedy might have meant something completely different.

As morning news shows announced the Democratic senator's death Wednesday, CNN's sports commentator Rafer Weigel reported that when he was attending Harvard, Kennedy was told by the head of the Green Bay Packers that he might have a future in pro football.

Kennedy's performance on Harvard's football team was good enough to prompt the remark.

Kennedy politely explained that he planned to go to law school and enter "another contact sport: politics."

As a senator, Kennedy championed such causes as health care, immigration, education and civil rights.

And, as would have happened if he'd entered that other contact sport, Kennedy gained admirers and detractors.

The youngest son in a family that came as close as any family in this country to royalty, Kennedy celebrated achievement and endured tragedy.

His eldest brother died piloting a dangerous bombing mission during World War II. The next in line, President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas. Robert Kennedy met the same fate while making his own bid for the presidency.

That kind of history would encourage most to seek an intensely private life.

But Ted Kennedy continued the legacy of service his brothers began.

Like many an athlete and politician, he also lived his life in public with sometimes tragic results.

The whole country knew when his 12-year-old son lost a leg to cancer, when he and his wife of 22 years divorced and, of course, when he drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, causing the death of his passenger.

Chappaquiddick seemed to mark the beginning of a difficult period in Kennedy's life. He developed a reputation as a heavy drinker and skirt chaser.

But Chappaquiddick also helped free him of his own national ambitions and, once he overcame his demons, Kennedy developed a reputation as a hard-working, effective lawmaker who could work both sides of the aisle to get results.

His accomplishments include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Meals on Wheels, family leave and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Not everyone appreciates or agrees with what he accomplished -- just as they might not have liked him if he had joined the Packers -- but his dedication and service to the county demands that we recognize his passing.

Thank you, Sen. Kennedy.