Commentary: Ted Kennedy's death a loss for mankind

By Bill Frist
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Bill Frist is the former Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate and a professor of medicine and business at Vanderbilt University.

(CNN) -- The telephone rang in the deep hours of a dark night after a heavy day for our family.

My mother, affectionately known as Dodie, had passed away just a few hours after my father had passed, the two dying of independent causes.

The call -- the first that my wife, Karyn, and I had received from any of our friends or Senate colleagues -- was from Ted and Vicki Kennedy. That is caring and that is love.

Imagine being in Nantucket with your non-sailing sons with Ted, the master of the sea, skippering his beloved wooden sailboat over from Hyannis, asking the boys to jump aboard so he could take them on a harbor cruise and tell them a bit about why his brother John so dearly loved the United States of America.

He focused time and energy on the young and the importance their lives will play in meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.

You see, in our lives Ted Kennedy was more than the legislative lion of the Senate.

He was the young senator I first met as a college intern in 1972 as he patiently found the time to lay out the fundamentals of universal health care to our summer class.

He was the proud stepdad who with Vicki beat Karyn and me to every afternoon high school baseball game while our sons played side by side.

And he was the masterful legislative colleague who never sacrificed his liberal principles standing for the everyday person as we joined each other on the health committee as respective co-chairmen to write and pass bills on health care disparities among the poor, emerging infectious diseases such as HIV and avian flu, and preparing the nation and the world to fight bioterrorism.

His death is a loss not just for Massachusetts and the Senate, but for all of mankind.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bill Frist.

August 26,2009

Today Karyn and I feel the deep loss of a personal friend.  In our lives Ted Kennedy was more than the legislative lion of the Senate.  He was the proud sailor who introduced our sons to the spiritual element of sailing on his beloved wooden sailboat in Nantucket, the young senator I first met as a college intern in 1972 as he patiently found the time to lay out the fundamentals of universal health care to our summer class,  the proud step-dad who with Vicki beat Karyn and me to every afternoon high school baseball game while our sons played side by side, and the masterful legislative colleague who never sacrificed his liberal principles standing for the everyday person as we joined  each other on the health committee in writing and passing bills on health care disparities among the poor, emerging infectious diseases like HIV and avian flu, and preparing the nation and the world to fight bioterrorism.    His death is a loss not just for Massachusetts and the Senate, but for all of mankind.   

 --Senator William H. Frist, M.D.

From Big Kenny Interview: The First Trip -- Impressions of Akon, SUDAN 2007

Love Everybody has helped with the facilitation of the Konyok School for Girls in Akon, Sudan. The school currently has 550+ students enrolled. Love Everybody's goal is to instill hope, strength, and excellence to all students who attend so they can prosper in life. Their motto: "Highlight the good, inspire greatness, and encourage mutual responsibility for the betterment of humankind. -- Love Everybody." Member of the Tennessee Global Health Coalition.

August 26, 2009

So, two years ago; October of 2007, my wife and I and several friends from the organization My Sister's Keeper from Boston and Dr. David Marks and Walt Ratterman from Sun Energy Power decided we were going to get together and go into the country of Sudan. We went there and visited this village, which is basically a refugee camp right in southern Sudan, about 50 kilometers from the line of demarcation between there and Darfur. So this is an area that people had fled into that had been pushed off of their land. Like farmers. My dad's a farmer, and I guess that's why it hits with me.
Met this morning with the Minister of Health. The last time I was at the ministry we met just down the hall from the minister's office. That was in 2003, and SARS had struck just the month before. Allegedly the Chinese government has hidden the problem from its people and the world, but as the outbreak grew, the news exploded, and no longer could the government contain the news. I was openly critical that day in our public meeting, representing the U.S. and world opinion. Though my remarks had nothing directly to do with what was about to occur, the minister just hours later was summarily fired, a sign of recognition that China would officially change its secretive policy of minimizing the ongoing impact of SARS. And the epidemic rapidly spread throughout China, Asia, and Canada, paralyzing travel and tourism, killing hundreds, and greatly diminishing economic growth for the next year of Asia and Canada.
As much as I hate to say it, my time in South Africa has now come and gone. Calandra Miller and I safely arrived back on American soil at 7:30 AM on August 6, 2009. At the time, I could not say the same for our luggage, which remained (safely) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The last couple of weeks spent in South Africa were bittersweet, to say the least. I was looking forward to coming home and seeing my family and friends once again, but at the same time I was having to say goodbye to many good friends and, what I consider to be, family back in South Africa. The volunteer girls, Betty, Eva, and Engelinah treated us to some milkshakes as a going away present. This was a distinct honor to me, because what we might take for granted in the United States, they had to budget for weeks in advance. We also spent some time celebrating with Stefan and his family, the Wiids (the family who hosted me in their cottage during my stay in SA), and Pastor Dave Garton and his wife Gail (who run the rehab program that Project HOPE is partnering with). In the midst of our imminent departure, I took some time to reflect on what I was doing and had done since arriving in South Africa.
August 24, 2009

Today, after meeting all day with health reformers in China, it is clear that partnerships with U.S. academic institutions are important to build capacity and institutional support here.

At Peking University, Dr. Ke Yang, Executive Vice President of Peking University (PKU), enthusiastically described the great results of a Duke-Peking University two-week global health diploma program with the School of Public Health.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

9 pm, Beijing

In 2003, representing the U.S. Senate I met with President Hu Jintao, CMC Chairman Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao, and the Foreign Minister and Health Minister. One evening there was a majestic dinner in our delegation's honor, similar to our State dinners, hosted by the NPC Chairman Wu Bangguo (who I understand is coming to DC in a couple of weeks). It was the height of the SARS crisis and China had been shut down. I remember so vividly the discussion we had in the Ambassador's residence in Japan (the country visited just prior to our planed trip to China) when I gathered all the Senators around to make a final decision of whether to enter China at a time of some risk. We decided to go ... to demonstrate our support of the Chinese government in those difficult times as it did its best to fight the new, frightening and deadly SARS virus.

I am reminded of all this as I enter China today and read the China Daily headlines in the airport, "H1N1 will endanger more lives," with a subtitle "Up to 2 Billion may be infected; China will see rise in cases this winter." The article goes on in the first few paragraphs to say that the number of H1N1 cases will double every three or four days until they reach the peak transmission period.

The world is a small place. SARS tore out of China and invaded Canada. The affected economies grounded to a halt. Similarly HINI will be a worldwide pandemic. There are no borders to these cagey and fatal viruses. We are all in this together and our response must be mutually dependent. We are one. There is no separation of global health from domestic health when it comes to these emerging diseases.

August 22, 2009

This morning, we awoke early to catch a 5:00am flight out of Nashville, through Atlanta to Shanghai, China. Karyn, youngest son Bryan (21), brother Tommy, his wife Trish, and his son-in-law Chuck Elcan and I are all traveling to China to explore the Chinese delivery of health care. During my time in the Senate, at the height of the SARS crisis, I led a Senate delegation to China. They were honored we would come during this period, exhibiting the United States’ trust in the Chinese government to handle this unknown crisis.
August 22, 2009

Frist Update and Expectations: Written on the plane to Shanghai

Just getting used to the new Prius. I am taking a lot of heat from my family who see me more the Tahoe or Suburban type. It was tough trading my 1992 Suburban (my only car) because of the family memories that centered on that car. I had saved some money back in ‘92 by getting a two wheel drive (though I regretted it later when in DC I kept getting stuck in the snow - sometimes doesn't pay to be too cheap); it was the car the boys learned to drive in the narrow streets of Georgetown (side mirrors a little scratched). I resisted this clunker deal initially because I thought it wrong that the taxpayer was buying my new car for me, but after a few days I broke down on the moral argument of mileage, pollution, etc (and the gift of the average taxpayer!!). I always buy my cars from Lee Beaman; his dad and mine were best friends. Christi, who works with me, picked out a great Yukon for me. But I opted for the Prius - why? Because it gets 4 times the gas mileage and I want to reduce gas consumption since so much of the proceeds goes to those who feed terrorism. And it is cheap - we actually ended buying two Pri(i) - one for me and one for my brother Tommy - for the price equal to one Yukon. Still hate to see the Suburban go - and it sounds like they poison it to kill it. Ugh.

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