Kennedy Aide Honors Boss in Game

Posted September 28, 2009 at 6:37pm

For many people, winning a game at the end of the season was the reason they played in the Senate Softball League tournament Saturday. For Rick Ally, the day was less about winning and losing and more about honoring the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Ally started Saturday’s game as shortstop for the Ted Sox, the team composed mostly of staffers from Kennedy’s office. But even before he could take his place on the field, Ally had another task: to swallow 35 pills that were part of his daily chemotherapy treatment.

Saturday’s game meant more to Ally than perhaps to any of the other Kennedy followers on the Ted Sox. From 1988 to 2000, Ally served as Kennedy’s personal assistant. “The Senator wasn’t just a boss,— Ally said. “He was a father figure.—

The closeness grew when two years ago, Ally was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma. ACC is an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer; many patients die within two months of diagnosis.

Upon Ally’s diagnosis, Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, immediately sprung into action, arranging for Ally to receive treatment at the renowned Johns Hopkins University oncology department.

“If it wasn’t for the Senator and his wife, I would not be alive today,— Ally said, watching his two young children play after his Ted Sox lost their opening-round game. Despite the limitations that cancer has forced on Ally, he insisted on playing for the Ted Sox in the team’s last year. “Nothing will keep me from playing in this tournament for the Senator, not the sciatica or the daily treatments of chemo.—

“I am so glad Rick was able to be a part of this,— said Mary Ally, Rick’s wife. “It is a valiant effort for him to be out here.—

Saturday’s game also marked another poignant moment: It was the last time the Ted Sox would play together as a team. With the passing of Kennedy, the team will disband.

That Ally even played is a miracle. When he was diagnosed, Ally’s cancer was already at stage four; his tumor measured over 12 centimeters. “When the doctors first told me about Rick’s condition, I felt like they were telling me to prepare for his funeral,— Mary said.

After the initial treatment, Rick lost 40 pounds and was limited to bed rest. Among many calls of support he received, one that stood out was from the Senator. “He called me up and told me to get back on my feet and come play for the Ted Sox.—

Ally has played for the Ted Sox since 1987, when he was a Kennedy intern. The team’s record has fluctuated, though Ally will never forget ’87, when the team went undefeated.

Kennedy “is the most remarkable human being I’ve ever encountered,— Ally said. “I love him dearly, and I miss him.—

That Ally and Kennedy were both suffering with grave illnesses only brought the men closer. In April, Kennedy was invited to throw out the first pitch before the Boston Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park. For a few weeks prior, Kennedy invited Ally to his home in Washington to throw the baseball around in anticipation of the first pitch. Coming off brain surgery, the Senator wanted to be sure his arm was ready.

Kennedy made it to Boston, his first pitch a success.

Before Kennedy passed away, he had a profound message for Ally. “He told me, ‘You’re not a statistic. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going. Keep your rudder true.’—

Oct. 17 will mark the two-year anniversary of Ally’s initial diagnosis. “Despite the fear and the turmoil, you never give up. I’m living proof of that. I take every day as I should, as a blessing.—