Saturday, August 29, 2009

Family and Leaders Pay Kennedy Tribute

BOSTON — During the funeral of Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday morning, the longtime senator was remembered as a “happy warrior” by President Obama, a figure of outsized public impact and of enduring private faith in a Mass that seemed as large as the life of the man being commemorated.
It brought together the extended Kennedy family, luminaries and political leaders from across decades, who offered praise for a scion of the country’s most storied political family and a towering liberal leader in the United States Senate, who died on Tuesday at 77 and is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery later in the day, next to his two slain brothers.
“Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy,” Mr. Obama said as he opened his eulogy. “The world will long remember their son Edward as 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 — a man whose name graces nearly one thousand laws, and who penned more than three hundred himself.”

President Obama delivered the eulogy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, where Mr. Kennedy had once prayed daily while one of his children was being treated for cancer. Speaking to an audience of 1,400 guests, including former presidents, dozens of senators and Congressional representatives, celebrities and dignitaries, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Kennedy as “the greatest legislator of our time.”

“The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Ted Kennedy Jr. remembered the senator as a devoted father, sailboat skipper and dinner-table debater. His grandchildren and nieces and nephews used words from Mr. Kennedy’s own speeches to offer prayers to causes close to his heart.

Max Allen, the son of Mr. Kennedy’s daughter, Kara, offered an intercession “for what my grandpa called the cause of his life, as he said so often: in every part of this land, that every American will have decent quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

In his homily, the Rev. Mark R. Hession said that Mr. Kennedy’s frequent visits to the basilica when his daughter Kara was battling lung cancer were a reminder that “the most public personalities also live a very personal existence.” And he noted that Mission Hill, the gritty neighborhood where the basilica is located, is a place “where the important issues that animated Ted Kennedy’s career” — particularly the needs of the poor — “are so frankly visible.”

“As one lives more toward the private moments of life,” Father Hession said, “the public character fades and the deeper personal convictions and commitments which have sustained a person through a long and complex life come to occupy the center stage. This was the case in the last few weeks and months as Ted and Vicki together faced the last measure of his life. Like any priest would be, I was present for that and with them. The faith that had sustained a visible and historic presence now became the faith that teaches us to see this life in the light of the next life.” A military honor guard carried Mr. Kennedy’s coffin into the church, and six priests and a cardinal were on hand to celebrate the funeral Mass. The tenor Placido Domingo sang and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a piece from Bach.

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat at the front of the church, and before the service chatted with former President Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who sat one row behind. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush and their wives were also in attendance.

Before the service, crowds of his constituents filled the sidewalks outside to watch a funeral procession carry Mr. Kennedy’s coffin through Boston and pay tribute to a man they called an irreplaceable political icon.

As a steady rain fell, they stood under umbrellas, waved flags and held signs reading “Kennedy Thanks,” which had been distributed by the mayor of Boston, Thomas M. Menino. One man, David Higgins, was an Irish immigrant who credited Mr. Kennedy with helping him get a visa. Another, Maureen McQuillen, volunteered as a greeter at Mr. Kennedy’s wake on Thursday. Members of a health-care union stood in purple jackets and said Mr. Kennedy had helped labor in “innumerable ways.”

“I came as a sign of respect,” said Millie Rooney, 56, who lives in Boston’s Dorchester section. “Today we had to be here, yes to see but more to feel. This is being a part of it.”

Behind the hearse was a limousine with Mr. Kennedy’s wife, Victoria. As it passed through Boston, she rolled down a window and waved to the crowds, saying, “Thank you, thank you.”

Abby Goodnough and Matt Collette contributed reporting.


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