Thought Leadership


My friend, Senator Kennedy, who can fill his shoes?

September 24, 2009
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We have lost another icon, some people would even call him a saint, he would be the first to refute the saint part, but a great American he was and a good friend as well.

I’m talking about Senator Edward Kennedy, the lion of the Senate, the fighter for all. Politics aside, he was a great man as well, very compassionate, kind and caring, when you were in his present you felt like you were the only person that mattered to him. He had a way to make you feel so comfortable and special.

Senator Kennedy was the first political person I reached out to after my son was killed on the job. Patrick was smothered under a million pounds of grain in 1993. My family and I was treated badly by most all who were involved in his case and I wanted to know what could be done to change these issues for the better. I knew Senator Kennedy had many issues of loss in his life and I knew he was a voice dealing with OSHA.

I sent him this telegram: “Corporate America doesn’t want you to know the information I have, OSHA doesn’t want you to know the information I have, but my son calls out from the grave information you need to know about OSHA reform.”

I didn’t expect to hear from him, but I did and shortly afterward I was testifying to a Senate Labor committee hearing. He and Senator Paul Simon help turn our case around and make OSHA better. He could have turned a deaf ear on me but he didn’t, thank God. This started a 16-year friendship. We did radio shows together, we had hearings, and I helped on many different issues with this great man. I am proud to have been a small part of any success that came from all this great body of work.

Senator Kennedy was a strong fighter for what he believed in, a strong opponent when necessary, and a forceful decision maker. But at the same time he would stand up for his beliefs and still would work with the other side. He had been known to change his mind on issues to make sure that the better good prevailed for all.

A man of means, Senator Kennedy didn’t need to help so many as myself, but he did. He didn’t have to help poor children have proper health insurance, but he did. He didn’t have to help a poor mountain widow get help after her husband was killed on the job, but he did. He didn’t have to hold a miner’s widow in his arms while crying with her after her loss, but he did. He didn’t have to help so many union workers and try and make OSHA a better agency, but he did. He did many things for the right reasons, even though others with his means and statue have not.

I called him friend, a good and supportive friend, as many other people who knew him did. No, we did not agree on every issue, but the respect we had for each other made it OK.

I will miss him now, as will many. I will remember the good times, the fights and the great moments. I will always hold onto his advice and guidance, his counsel and direction.

I will always remember the last picture we had together, just a week before his cancer diagnosis, and will recall how great he looked that day and will always remember what he said to his staff about me during the hearing I attended. “Man, this guy knows his stuff.” It was a real complement.

To my old friend Senator Edward Kennedy, rest in peace my friend, you have more than earned a great rest and reward. We will continue to remember you and know in our hearts what you stood for and what you meant to all on this earth.

I have many questions now. How will we move forward to improve OSHA and worker protections? Will we follow his lead? Will we pass his legislation to strengthen OSHA penalties and make it easier to prosecute irresponsible executives after preventable job fatalities? Will we find another lion to lead? Can we pick up the slack? Can we open our hearts and mind to another leader? What will we do? And most of all, who will fill his shoes?

Ron Hayes is a safety consultant, trainer, and activist. The Fight Project, the organization Ron and his wife Dot founded to help victims and families of victims, can be reached at (800) 388-8644 code 19.
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