Though Mixner is careful to note that he wasn’t Kennedy’s closest confidant, he nonetheless had a strong bond with the senator and attributes his loyalty to the LGBT community -- especially during the AIDS crisis -- to his own experience with saying goodbye to too many loved ones all too soon.

“He understood the concept of, every time you turn around, losing someone close to you -- unexpectedly,” says Mixner. “I think that's part of how he came to be so close to us -- that unbelievable connection he had to us through his own great loss.”

Mixner echoes the seemingly endless stream of stories over the past few days about Kennedy invariably reaching out to people in their lowest moments. “He would always call at just the right time and know exactly what to say and, without fail, make you laugh,” he says.

David Smith of the Human Rights Campaign received one of those treasured phone calls. Two years ago, Smith traveled to Spain to marry his partner and was joined by his family there. Five days after the ceremony, Smith’s father died of a massive stroke. As soon as his plane landed back in the states, Smith’s cell phone rang and Senator Kennedy was on the other end of the line.

Tags: Politicians