June 5, 2006 - Rep. Markey's Statement at the Tip O'Neil Tunnel Dedication
BOSTON, MASS. -- Thank you Chris, for that kind introduction, and for re-assuming your duties today as spokesperson for the legacy of Tip O’Neill. I want to also thank my great friend Tom O’Neill and the O’Neill family for putting this incredible day together.
And welcome Nancy Pelosi, the woman most responsible for rebuilding the Democratic party of the 21st century to the point where, in just 5 more months, we will once again have a Speaker of the House of Representatives with a heart of gold and a moral compass to match the man we honor today.
Tip never got to make the drive, but he's smiling today because he knows that this magnificent tunnel now makes it possible to drive from North Cambridge to the Cape in just over an hour.
Today we have gathered once again to honor Tip O’Neill, who called himself “just a politician,” but who became the Albert Einstein of political science.
When I was first elected to Congress shortly after Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon, I arrived in Washington as an Irish Catholic, a Boston College graduate.. And I went ready to meet another Irish Catholic, a Boston College graduate, but in this case a man who would soon be the Speaker.
On my first day in Congress, Tip brought me into his office, and he said, "You know Eddie, I know your reputation from the State legislature -- they threw your desk out in the hall, caused a lot of trouble up on Beacon Hill, but, Eddie, trust me, trust me. You won't understand what I'm saying right now, but the longer you are here, the more you're going to like the seniority system."
That was 30 years ago, and I can appreciate the wisdom of the ages that Tip was passing down to me at that moment. And it helped me appreciate the importance of the very first vote I would ever cast in Congress – the vote to elect Tip O’Neill Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977.
When he would seize the floor of the House, he would deliver a message that carried the moral weight of Martin Luther King and the eloquence of Daniel Webster.
There is a poem called “The Bridge Builder.” It was written by Will Allen Dromgoole, a Boston poet whose great-grandfather emigrated from County Sligo. Perhaps that is why these words seem to capture Tip’s spirit of service.
The Bridge Builder
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide --
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be,
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."
Tip O’Neill was such a man – a man who, reaching the other side, would turn to extend a helping hand to those who would follow. As he rose to become one of the most powerful leaders of the land, he kept reaching back, and this magnificent tunnel is emblematic of that spirit.
Tip found joy in a lifetime of
connecting people to people,
keeping families together,
strengthening the fabric of Boston,
freeing traffic with a tunnel,
providing a living wage to working class families, student loans to kids with dreams, help to the peace makers of Northern Ireland and to those seeking justice in Central America for the murder of the Maryknoll nuns.
Connecting, restoring, providing, protecting –
And all the time warming hearts everywhere with nothing more than a word and a wink.
For all he contributed to this country, he died as one of the great Americans of the 20th century, and one of the greatest political leaders in the history of the United States.
What an honor it was for me to have served in the Congress every day that he was Speaker.