Future of Kennedy Family Legacy Unclear After Senator's Death

By Vince Bzdek
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009; 10:17 PM

Editor's Note: This is an updated version of an article that was published Aug. 12. It has been revised to reflect Sen. Edward Kennedy's death.

Exactly one year ago, Ted Kennedy was waiting impatiently in a hospital bed in Denver to find out if doctors would allow him to give a surprise speech at the Democratic National Convention. It was just two hours to showtime, and Ted, who had endured a summer of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, "just wasn't feeling well," according to his niece Caroline Kennedy.

Ted had secretly flown across the country to be at the convention, only to be laid low upon arrival by a sudden onset of kidney stones. Doctors, family members and friends had counseled him not to make the trip, fearing just such a complication, but "there was nothing that was going to keep him away," Caroline said at the time.

Kennedy finally told his wife, Vicki, that he was going to give the speech regardless of what doctors said. He rested in bed until the last possible moment, then got up and took an ambulance to the Pepsi Center, where the Democrats had convened.

Shuffling onto the stage, Kennedy delivered a rousing valedictory that day, one that had the crowd on its feet, applauding every sentence.

Summoning the optimism, idealism and dedication to public service that his family has long stood for, he reminded his audience that, when his brother John called of going to the moon, he didn't say it was too far to get there. "This is what we do," Ted roared. "We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again."

He concluded with an echo of his signature phrase, first uttered 28 years earlier at another Democratic convention: "The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on."

"It kind of felt like this grand finale," his son Patrick said in an interview. "He wanted to . . . demonstrate that this was another epic moment in the history of the country, when there was a real passing of the torch to a new generation."

But it was a different kind of ending for many of those who have been affected by the Kennedys during the 60 years they have reigned as America's royal family. This ending was tinged with sadness, as so many Kennedy endings are, but it was also undergirded by a satisfying sense of completion. Finally, it seemed, the life of one of the sons of Camelot had not been cut short.

With the passing of Ted and Eunice, now only one sister, Jean, survives the eight other brothers and sisters from that towering generation. As their time passes, a six-decade chapter in America's political and cultural history is coming to a close, posing the question: Is the Kennedy story ending as a public saga? If it isn't, who will carry the torch now?

Dinnertime Dynasty

The House of Kennedy was formed at the dinner table. The matriarch, Rose, posted news items on a bulletin board in the kitchen before dinner, and her children were expected to bone up so they could contribute to the conversation. One family friend remembers a map on the dining room wall that Joe Kennedy would unfurl to make geopolitical points to his children. Mealtime was lesson time, and the nine siblings all defined their roles within the family hierarchy. It was also where their competitive instincts were sharpened, their rivalries worked out and the ties that bound them were tightened nightly.

Charles Spalding, a friend of John's, summed up the nine this way: "You watched these people go through their lives and just had a feeling that they existed outside the usual laws of nature; that there was no other group so handsome, so engaged. There was endless action . . . endless talk . . . endless competition. . . . It was as simple as this: The Kennedys had a feeling of being heightened, and it rubbed off on people who came into contact with them."

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