Ted Kennedy had many Utah ties

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Though he was a "liberal lion" from the Northeast, Ted Kennedy actually had deep, life-long connections in conservative Utah. In fact, some of his most famous political battles and friendships had a Utah link.

Attorney Steve Owens possesses a treasure trove of Kennedy memorabilia, including photos of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy.

"The blessing was that he lived. He lived, unlike his brothers who were taken early," Steve said.

His dad, Wayne Owens, worked as a staffer for all three Kennedy brothers. He was chief-of-staff to Ted Kennedy and drove him around after he lost his license following Chappaquiddick. Later, Wayne became a congressman.

"So, after my dad got elected, Ted would say to my dad, ‘How can I help you?' Dad would say, ‘Stay away.' The Kennedy mystique never caught on in Utah, especially in the 1980s," Steve said.

In 1994, a favorite son of Utah, future Olympic boss Mitt Romney gave Kennedy the scare of his political life: a tough Senate race when the two famously tangled over abortion.

"I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice," Romney said.

"On the question of the choice issue, I have supported Roe v. Wade. I am pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice," Kennedy countered.

Sen. Orrin Hatch says he and Kennedy were like "fighting brothers."


"We became very, very good friends, even though we fought each other most of the time--and those were knock-down, drag-out fights," Hatch said.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson recalls Kennedy holding court on Colorado River trips, lighting up the night around the campfire.

"And just regale us, for it seemed like hours, with these stories," Wilson said.

One time, Kennedy, Wayne Owens and Robert Redford got stuck on a sandbar in a boat on Lake Powell.

"My dad waved to people trying to pass by and said, ‘Hey, I've got Senator Ted Kennedy and Robert Redford on my boat!' And the voice came back, ‘Yeah, I've got Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew on my boat!'--which was a big joke," Steve said.

Romney issued a statement Wednesday calling Kennedy a "friend" and a "big-hearted, unforgettable man."

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com


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