Edward M. Kennedy: 1932-2009

Put a little time aside in the days ahead to appreciate the fragile beauty of this Island and to think about the special character of the Vineyard community. The death of Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy at age seventy-seven reminds us immediately that the life of this man who is now eulogized everywhere is woven deeply into the fabric of Martha’s Vineyard. What the Vineyard is today is in part due to Senator Kennedy’s enduring interest in the preservation of the Island, in the protection of a unique way of life too often threatened by unbridled development pressures.

It was in 1972 that the Massachusetts senator first proposed federal legislation that called for the creation of the Nantucket Sound Islands Trust to secure the future of the Vineyard within a protective conservation framework. His highly controversial initiative failed. But out of that failure and with Mr. Kennedy’s continued leadership came compromise in the form of state legislation. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission was born and has to this day acted as a regional planning agency to preserve and conserve the quality of Island life. Many will argue with convincing force that the Vineyard would be a dramatically different place today had it not been for the leadership of Ted Kennedy and the protection of the commission.

The life and political career of the late senator are a mix of triumph and tragedy. The citizenry of this Island community will remember Mr. Kennedy no doubt for his contributions to the conservation of the Vineyard but also for the tragedy of Chappaquiddick in July 1969 that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne. He later apologized to the nation for leaving the accident scene after the car he was driving plunged off the Dike Bridge.

But the senator moved beyond the stain of Chappaquiddick and he remained a good friend of the Island and her people. He often sailed his boat Mya in and out of Vineyard harbors. He loved these waters that connect the Island with the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod. And he continued to the end to take a deep interest in the life of the Vineyard and the future of the Island.

It seems somehow fitting that President Obama, while vacationing on the Vineyard, spoke out in moving tribute to Senator Kennedy. The President from his Summer White House in Chilmark ordered American flags flown at half-staff. Mr. Obama sent his condolences to the senator’s wife, Victoria (Vicki) Reggie, and to the entire Kennedy family. He called Ted Kennedy one of greatest senators of our time, indeed one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy. “For five decades,” the President said, “virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.”

The President said the nation has lost a great leader. So also has the Vineyard lost a great friend.