The Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) - The world remembers Sen. Edward Kennedy for his passionate liberalism, legislative skill and stewardship of a political dynasty.
Kevin Larson recalls a McDonald's lunch.
A decade ago, Kennedy hosted Larson's 6- and 4-year-old sons to thank them for returning a lost diamond ring they had found at a playground. Larson remembers his boys bounding past a reception area filled with important people in suits to McDonald's meals Kennedy's staff had waiting for them in his office.
The graciousness Kennedy showed his family that day was repeated in the coming years in notes and Christmas cards.
"He never forgot the little guy," said Larson, who lives in the Boston suburb of Malden.
On Wednesday, the little guy remembered Kennedy, a day after he died of brain cancer.
Outside Massachusetts, Kennedy was loved and hated for the national causes he championed, sometimes with thunderous intensity. But state residents also knew Kennedy for his careful tending to constituents, whether it was his calls to each family who lost someone on Sept. 11, help with State Department bureaucracy for a troubled immigrant, or a handwritten note.
Kennedy took pride in working the hardest and longest on constituent services, so much so that his congressional colleagues could be criticized for paling in comparison.
"He really just truly wanted to reach out, and he just cared about us," said Army National Guard Sgt. PeterDamon, a helicopter mechanic Kennedy befriended after he lost both arms in an accident in Irag. "I think that's his legacy."
Damon met Kennedy in 2003 while he was a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The two spoke for an hour about everything from Damon's hometown of Brockton to the New England Patriots, but not his injury. Damon later learned Kennedy's son, Edward Jr., lost a leg to bone cancer as a child. "I think he knew not to dwell on it," Damon said.
Kennedy followed up with personal notes, surprise Patriots football tickets and years of consistent correspondence as he helped Damon navigate the veterans health care system. In 2007, Kennedy learned that Damon, an artist, had opened a gallery in his town of Middleborough and arranged with Sen. John Kerry to display some of his artwork in Senate offices.
"He was just a true friend," Damon said. "We're from just two totally different worlds, but we were able to come together and talk as two long time friends."
Angela Sanfilippo, of Gloucester, first contacted Kennedy when she was 19 in the late 1960s. Her 2-year-old brother, Vincent, had Down syndrome and local doctors offered little hope to her parents, discouraging them with talk of a short, unfulfilling life.
Sanfilippo knew Kennedy's sister was mentally disabled, so she wrote the senator asking for help getting a more complete diagnosis. Kennedy arranged for Vincent to be examined at a Boston hospital, where doctors brought relief and hope to Sanfilippo's parents by discovering his condition was not as severe as they had been told. Vincent is 43 now, speaks two languages and has a steady job.
Sanfilippo later worked with Kennedy as head of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, a fishing industry group. The senator called with condolences every time a fisherman was lost at sea, sent numerous personal notes just to keep in touch, and even shared a cheesesteak with Sanfilippo when they ran into each other at a Washington airport.
"Our relationship never ended," Sanfilippo said.
Lauren Stanford also had a deep relationship with Kennedy, even though she's just 17. They connected after Stanford, who has Type 1 diabetes, wrote all her congressmen asking for help searching for a cure. Kennedy responded. The Plymouth resident was 11 when she met the senator at his Washington office. He put the nervous girl at ease by first sending out his playful Portuguese water dogs.
They exchanged several letters, and Kennedy read one of them, about stem cell research, on the Senate floor. Then, in January 2007, he invited Stanford to Washington to speak about the issue in front of the Senate herself.
One of their last contacts came last year, when Kennedy called Stanford's cell phone while she was at field hockey practice, so she couldn't pick up. It turned out to be a lucky break, because Kennedy left a voice mail that she's saved. It starts, "Hi, it's Ted!"
"I think that he represents what a politician should be," Stanford said. "They shouldn't be scary and intimidating, they should be easy to connect to.
"It's so sad that he's gone," she added, "but he did a lot of good for the people before he left."
Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report