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Personal Touch

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy.  He was elected to the US Senate when I was 1 year old and had always been a visible public figure in my life here in Massachusetts.  Whether you agreed or disagreed with him philosophically, whether you forgave or were horrified by his personal troubles, there was no doubt that he cared deeply about the people he represented.

I am always most moved by the Ted Kennedy stories where he put his own time into helping or comforting some 'regular' person.  He wasn't doing this as a quid pro quo for a donor or political ally.  He wasn't doing it for the press coverage as there was usually none at the time.  He didn't brag about it later in speeches.  He just did it because he thought it was the right thing to do.  This personal empathy for his constituents is an important lesson for all of us.  So few leaders exhibit tihs quality today.

Here are two stories from today's Boston Globe which highlight this aspect of Senator Kennedy's life:

His compassion lifted many

A man who knew pain eased it in others

And, a couple of quotes from the second one:

There was no use arguing.

It was Aug. 18, 2008. The senator read in the paper that two servicemen from Mashpee had died in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knew their grieving families would be together that afternoon, gathering for sandwiches and fortitude before a candlelight service at Mashpee’s veterans memorial.

It didn’t matter that he was in the middle of yet another chemotherapy treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. It didn’t matter that he was clearly exhausted. It didn’t matter that people would understand if he couldn’t make it. He wanted to be with them.

“When you think it’s the moment not to call, that’s the moment to call,’’ he always told his aides. “The sooner, the better.’’ He wanted the relatives to know he was there if they needed him and to tell them he had lived their pain.


The ailing senator was in no hurry to leave. He had words of comfort for every person in the house that afternoon.

“It gave me great admiration for him,’’ Maria Conlon said, “that somebody going through such a hard time with his own life, and for everything he’s suffered in the past, and still, he took the time to go to the family’s house, to sit there, not for five minutes, but for hours.’’

He wanted to attend the candlelight service, he told the families, but it was best for him to stay away.

“If I go, I’ll be in the spotlight,’’ Vicky Baron, Paul’s aunt, recalled him saying. “I don’t want to take away from what these young men did and what they gave up.’’ 

And so the senator hugged the grieving families goodbye and left the house, unseen.

I find these types of personal connections inspiring.  They remind me that in everything we do, it pays to take the time to have a personal touch.  I've done a bunch of fund-raising for various charities.  In looking back, the approaches that have worked the best have been the phone call, the in-person meeting, and, the most effective of all, the hand-written note.  Taking the time to write something by hand in this era of word processing and email and Facebook and Twitter shows a real commitment to the cause and to the recipient.  Personal commitment elicits a response, whether it is from donors, customers, partners, or investors.

If Senator Kennedy had the time to do this, we can all find the time.  It's a matter of putting our time into what's important.  And, a personal touch is one of the most important things of all.


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