As rain pelted Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in a working class Boston neighborhood, the 1,500 invited guests at Senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral Saturday heard the veteran legislator eulogized by President Obama and by the Senators’ two sons.
In his 16 minute message at the end of the two hour Catholic service, President Obama called Kennedy “the heir to a weighty legacy; a champion for those who had none; the soul of the Democratic Party; and the lion of the U.S. Senate.”
Obama, whose presidential campaign benefited enormously from Kennedy’s timely endorsement, spoke in highly personal terms saying he was among those who “loved him and ache with his passing.” Later the president added, “We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy -- not for the sake of ambition or vanity; not for wealth or power; but only for the people and the country he loved.”
The most powerful emotional moments came during remembrances by Kennedy’s two sons -- Ted Kennedy, Jr. and U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Ted drew the first laugh of the day when he quoted his father as saying, “I do not mind not being President, I just mind that somebody else is.” In a reference to Kennedy’s sometimes larger than life appetites, Ted said his father was a “lover of all things French -- cheese, wine, and women.” At that point, the network TV feed switched to the senator’s widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, smiling.
Senator Kennedy’s love of sailing and other vigorous forms of activity meant that family vacations “left us all injured and exhausted,” son Ted said.
Most movingly, Ted talked about losing a leg to disease as a young person and how he struggled to climb a snowy driveway during a storm in Washington with an artificial limb. He fell and began to cry. “I know you can do it, there is nothing you can’t do,” Ted quoted his father as saying during the episode. The Senator added he would help him climb the hill “even if it takes all day.” As he told the story, Ted dissolved in tears adding “my father taught me even our most profound losses are survivable,” adding “he taught me nothing was impossible.”
Ted got a laugh from the bipartisan audience at the funeral when he said his father “taught me some of life’s harder lessons such as how to love Republicans.” In his final line, Ted became emotional as he said, “I love you dad, I always will, and I miss you already.”
As he left the podium, Ted shared a prolonged embrace with his brother, Patrick, now a member of Congress from Rhode Island. Rep. Kennedy talked about his childhood struggles with asthma and his father’s constant, loving attention. “When his light shone on me alone, there was no better feeling in the world.” Patrick said that Senator Kennedy’s principles were embodied in sailing. As on a sail boat, so in life, “there was a role for everybody,” he said. “May your dream for a better and more just America never die, “ Patrick concluded.
In addition to remembrances by the President and Kennedy's sons, the service included music from cellist Yo-Yo Ma and opera star Placido Domingo. Senator Kennedy was a fan of opera, and he proposed to his wife at a Metropolitan Opera performance in New York City.
Most U.S. Senators were there
The church, which does not have air conditioning and grew uncomfortably hot, was filled with Senator Kennedy’s legislative colleagues including 58 current members of the Senate, 21 former Senators, and Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a former Kennedy aide. Also in the audience: former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, the president Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to unseat. Vice president Joe Biden also attended, as did former vice presidents Al Gore and Dan Quayle.
Senator Kennedy was one of the most prominent American Catholics, and the church where his funeral was held, referred to locally as the Mission Church, had a special place in his heart. The Senator came to the church in 2003 to pray daily while his daughter, Kara, was being treated in a local hospital. According to press reports, Kennedy and his wife visited the church last summer after the Senator had received an unfavorable medical diagnosis. Kara led a responsive reading from the Psalms during Saturday’s service.
After the church service, the Senator’s casket was flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington. The motorcade was scheduled to stop at the Capitol so former staffers can pay their respects and then proceed down Constitution Avenue, past the Lincoln Memorial, and across Memorial Bridge to Arlington National Cemetery. Senator Kennedy will be buried on a hillside overlooking Washington near the graves of his brothers John and Robert.
Follow us on Twitter.