Our group of students was outside the Capitol Building waiting to meet Senator Jesse Helms on the Senate steps for a photo. At the time, I had a broken ankle (basketball injury) and was in a walking cast up to my knee. I could walk, but not very fast, and stairs posed a particular challenge as I had to take each step slowly due to the pain.
We were all standing around waiting, when all of a sudden Senator Kennedy walked out the door and down the steps. He literally walked right through the middle of our disorganized group and started down the long marble steps headed towards his Senate office building.
I was the only one in our group who saw him as he walked by and I blurted out "That's Ted Kennedy!" He kept walking. Every one in my group said "No that wasn't him... couldn't be... etc."
As an autograph collector, even back then, I was desperate to get someone to walk down the steps and catch him and ask for an autograph, as I knew I couldn't make it down the steps fast enough with my broken ankle. No one believed me that Ted Kennedy was walking down the steps (his back was to us now) and therefore no one was willing to chase after him. After about 30 seconds of this, I decided broken leg or not, I was going after that autograph.
I hobbled down the steps and literally chased him down a long side walk and caught him about half way to his Senate office building.
When I approached him, he simply turned to me with pen and hand and signed a Senate Gallery pass I was holding. He didn't say a word. I said thank you, but he just turned and kept on walking. He wasn't rude... just preoccupied, but still willing to sign.
When I returned to my school group, they could not believe that it really was Ted Kennedy and I proudly showed off my autograph.
I actually met him two years later at Wake Forest University at the first Presidential Debate between then Vice President George Bush (Sr.) and then Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis.
I was a freshman at Wake and as Chairman of the College Republicans got to serve as an usher for the VIPs in the audience. Everybody in politics was there that night and I got to assist several of them to their seats. I was 18 and fascinated with the whole process. I met Jesse Jackson, Pete DuPont, and Ted Kennedy that night. I got Ted to sign the program that was handed out that night.
As an aside, I actually ushered, then Mayor of Charlotte Sue Myrick to her seat that night. Twenty-one years later, I'm her chief of staff. Life is short and surreal sometimes.
RIP Ted Kennedy.