Remembering Sen. Kennedy '59: Law School Mourns Loss of Exceptional Alum

August 26, 2009

The Law School community is mourning the loss of one of its most prominent alumni, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '59, who died of brain cancer Tuesday night.

Ted, John and Bobby Kennedy"Senator Kennedy was one of the most prolific and effective legislators in our nation's history, " said Dean Paul G. Mahoney. "He was able to work with colleagues of different views and had a passionate desire to use the legislative process for the benefit of the least privileged. The Law School mourns the loss of an exceptional graduate."

Kennedy followed in his brother Robert F. Kennedy's footsteps to attend law school at the University of Virginia. Even in law school he played a prominent role in the nation's politics; during his second year he managed his brother John's successful Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts.

Kennedy's law school career culminated in winning the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition, a mock trial competition that begins in law students' first year and ends before a panel of judges in their third and final year. Kennedy's partner in the competition was his roommate, future Sen. John Tunney of California.

"And of course, Teddy just loved the fact that he had won and Bobby had not," Tunney once jokingly told a Boston Globe reporter.

"They were both just average students, but they were good on their feet," Caplin said. "They were unusually good in the moot court competition." Former Law School Professor Mortimer Caplin '40 taught Kennedy (and Robert F. Kennedy '51) federal taxation in Law School, and was eventually chosen by President John Kennedy to be commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service at their recommendation.

Kennedy was also a member of the Student Advisory Council and Phi Alpha Delta. In his final year at Virginia, he served as president of the Student Legal Forum, which invites prominent public figures to speak at the Law School.

After law school, Kennedy served in his brother's successful presidential campaign. He worked as an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts before his election to the Senate in 1962 at the age of 30, the legal minimum.

Caplin, who remained close to the Kennedy family over the years and informally advised Ted on tax issues, praised Kennedy's years of service in the Senate, including his most recent position as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.Kennedy was the second-most-senior member of the Senate, and is the third-longest-serving senator of all time. More than 300 bills that Kennedy wrote have been enacted into law, and he played a major role in passing many pieces of legislation, including those focusing on immigration, expanding health care and the rights of the disabled, and education reform. He ran for president in 1980, but lost the Democratic nomination to President Jimmy Carter.

"Kennedy was a giant in the Senate. He was the head of so many important committees," Caplin said. "He knows more about health care than anyone in the Senate. It's a great loss to Barack Obama not to have Kennedy at his side."

Kennedy returned to the Law School to speak several times over the years, most recently in 2006 when he delivered the keynote address at the annual Conference on Public Service and the Law.

"I hope some of you will join a district attorney's office as I also did as a young lawyer, " he said. "Or perhaps you'll be a public defender, or a legal service lawyer dealing directly with clients. These are all inspiring ways to become involved in public interest law and effective ways to learn the practical art of [being a good lawyer] as well."

Kennedy charged the audience to protect and preserve the U.S. Constitution in light of the challenges presented by the war on terror.

"As the lawyers and leaders and senators of the future, you have a special obligation to educate the public on these issues by teaching and writing and speaking about them, and working with groups that care about these issues. So you have your assignment."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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