Sen. Kay Hagan (’78) reflects on Kennedy, her first year in Congress

President Barack Obama had just taken office and was about to address the nation from the capital. As the freshman senator from North Carolina, Kay Hagan (’78) had a prime seat for the historic event. But when her husband, Chip Hagan (’77), a prominent attorney in Greensboro whom she met in law school, was unable to attend, the senator turned to Wake Forest.

A law school classmate, Vickie Cheek Dorsey of Atlanta, happened to be in Washington, D.C. Dorsey (’78) who serves on the university’s board of visitors, was offered the sought-after spot next to Hagan.

“It was a great experience for her to sit in the gallery and witness something like that first hand,” says Hagan, a Democrat who defeated incumbent Elizabeth Dole for the N.C. Senate seat in 2008.

Make no mistake, Hagan is, and always will be, a Demon Deacon.

“I keep up with a lot of my classmates,” says Hagan, who attended the N.C. Bar Association Alumni reception this summer in Asheville, where she met with Wake Forest law alumnae as well as Dean Blake Morant.

Simply put, Hagan turns to her friends and classmates at Wake Forest “all the time.”

Wake Forest had great professors when my husband and I were in law school, and it has great professors now.

She remembers a trip to Argentina with several classmates from Wake Forest and talks about relationships with fellow lawyers who have helped her craft legislation. When she seeks additional insight into issues affecting the Tar Heel State, she often turns to Wake Forest, which has produced not only attorneys but judges, public officials and, of course, thousands of well-informed citizens.

“Wake Forest had great professors when my husband and I were in law school, and it has great professors now,” she says. “My husband was in the class ahead of me, and we got a great education.”

Each Wednesday in Washington, Hagan holds a sort of open house, which she affectionately calls the “Carolina Coffee.” “It’s a great opportunity for people in North Carolina to visit,” she says. “It’s a great way to connect, and I encourage everyone to do that.”

Hagan’s political career began when she helped her uncle, Lawton Chiles, paste bumper stickers on supporters’ cars. Chiles, the former Florida governor, served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years. Hagan ran Gov. Jim Hunt’s gubernatorial campaign in Guilford County before her election to the N.C. Senate, where she served the 32nd District for 10 years.

As a member of the U.S. Senate, Hagan is more than halfway through her first year, which has been marked by hope, angst and sadness. She was in Charlotte the morning of Aug. 28, during a congressional recess, which she spent meeting constituents and visiting health care centers and military installations.

But on this rainy Friday, Hagan’s thoughts were on Sen. Ted Kennedy, whom she met prior her election to the U.S. Senate. She said she was preparing to travel to Boston for the funeral and memorial service.

“I met Ted before he was diagnosed with brain cancer,” she said, remembering the one-on-one conversation, Kennedy’s two dogs in tow. “He was an extremely personable individual, and he gave me great advice and counsel on running for Senate and being a senator.”

She said Kennedy’s presence in the Senate was palpable, particularly after his return to the floor after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“Seeing the responses from senators who had known him for so long …”

Words were unnecessary, but the unspoken message was resoundingly clear:

“Teddy’s here,” she said. “Teddy’s on the floor.”