Beth Huaghland Dupuy
Long-time EMK staffer Carey Parker passed away in December 2022 at age 88. Carey worked as Senator Kennedy’s Legislative Director from 1969 until he turned off the lights in 2009. Beth (Haughland) Dupay worked as Carey’s assistant from 1997-2001 and as Senator Kennedy’s executive Assistant from 2001-2007.
By the time I joined the Washington office in 1997, Carey Parker had already been working with Senator Kennedy for almost 30 years. Having been a college intern since 1995, I was acutely aware of Carey’s Capitol Hill celebrity — “the office buddha” according to Kennedy biographer Neal Gabler. So, I was naturally speechless when, two months after I joined as a foreign policy staff assistant, Carey asked me to come work with him in SR-321. His assistant of two decades, Barbara Cobb, was retiring and, as I was pretty good at translating his handwriting, he offered me the job. Very rarely did you submit a draft to Carey that was untouched by his pen so my keen eye for his hieroglyphics ended up being my good fortune.
Working with Carey was a master class in Senate history, procedure, and maneuvering as well as speechwriting, research, and the perfect thank you note. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do (aside from use a computer) and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t write. He was Senator Kennedy’s personal ChatGPT, if ChatGPT was programmed to love the oxford comma and the two em dash (–), and produced some of the most famous floor speeches in Senate history.
As Patrick Kennedy said, he was the Senator’s alter ego and there was no detail too small or idea too large for the two of them to contemplate. On any given day, Carey’s schedule could include everything from briefing the Senator in advance of a meeting with POTUS on education reform to tasking me (and a sitting U.S. Ambassador) to research the history of an obscure Greek quote. In the days before internet search, he had the Senate Library and the Congressional Research Service on speed-dial with questions that would certainly stump Google today. And whether he was writing the Americans with Disabilities Act or responding to a letter from a Massachusetts high school student, he gave each task his undivided attention.
As many who worked with him know, Carey was also a creature of habit. Every day he worked from 8am to 8pm (or later), ate the same lunch at his desk (chicken salad sandwich and the soup of the day – anything but the Senate bean soup!), watched the same 6pm national news broadcast (the only time of the day that he was completely unavailable to staff inquiries), and edited piles and piles of documents using the same yellow legal pads and the same specific black pens. Carey also created his own private database and intricate archival system. He had 25 filing cabinets in the Russell attic filled with decades of history, notes, and quotes, all with a detailed index for easy reference.
As his assistant, I got to see it all and I learned so much from him. I learned that you could easily have 30+ drafts of a speech before it was ready. I learned that even the classics could use some copy-editing. He once reworded a direct quote from Moby Dick for one of the Senator’s speeches and when questioned said that Melville needed to be edited. Most importantly, I learned that even when you’re the smartest person in the room, you can also be the most kind, humble, and thoughtful person as well.
Every year, at the infamous office Christmas party, there would be a line of former staffers waiting patiently to speak with Carey. I think many of them were more excited to see him than to see whatever crazy costume the Senator was wearing that year. So many brilliant people who had gone on to impressive jobs off the Hill, just wanting one more chance to chat with the 101st Senator.
The Washington Post had it right – “no aide did more behind the scenes than Mr. Parker to translate Kennedy’s ideals into legislation, or to support him as he assumed his mantle as the ‘lion of the Senate.’”
We’ll all be forever grateful to his wife Betsy and his daughters, Annie and Catherine, for sharing him with us. I only wish that Carey was around to edit this reflection for me. He would have made it so much better.