By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009
BOSTON, Aug. 28 -- Family members and friends, political allies and ideological rivals joined together Friday night to pay tribute to the long life and outsized personality of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, in a small, private memorial service filled with song, laughter and tears.
One of the most emotional moments came when former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, the late senator's nephew, spoke in highly personal terms about how his uncle helped him and his siblings after their father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968 while running for president.
"Every single one of my brothers and sisters needed a father, and we gained one through Uncle Teddy," Joseph Kennedy said. "We just needed someone to hang on to, and Uncle Teddy was always there to hang on to." Speaking directly to Edward Kennedy's children -- Kara, Patrick and Edward Jr. -- he said, "You had to share, so we just want to say, 'Thank you.' "
More than three hours later, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Kennedy's niece, recounted family trips to historical sites. "He was passing down his belief that each of us has a chance to change the course of history," she said.
The evening service, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, came after members of the public were able paid their respects. Young and old, people of every color, race and ethnic background -- a reflection of the tapestry of modern America that Kennedy touched during his half-century in public life -- came. Kennedy died Tuesday after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.
Boston police said about 50,000 people came for the two days of public viewing Thursday and Friday, many of them standing as long as two hours in lines that stretched half a mile. Some drove from as far as Virginia to pay their respects.
"I would have driven 10 hours," said P.K. Kapoor, a retired manager who drove 2 1/2 hours from Wallingford, Conn. "The Kennedys -- I've always admired them, starting with JFK." He said he recalled listening to the news of President Kennedy's assassination on the radio in his native India.
Jordan Weiner, a New York City cabdriver, drove five hours to stand in line in the scorching sun to say goodbye. As a college student, Weiner had worked for Edward Kennedy's failed 1980 presidential campaign. "Next to my father and my mother, he's a huge, formative influence on me," Weiner said.
The evening event was a small, intimate affair attended by Kennedy's extended family, longtime friends, several of his Senate colleagues and Vice President Biden.
Biden moved the crowd when he spoke of how Kennedy comforted him after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, how he persuaded Biden to remain in the Senate after the tragedy, and how he later instructed Biden on the ways of the Senate and the etiquette of Washington dinner parties.
"I wouldn't be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy," Biden said. "His death was not unlike his life -- overcoming pain and loss with a sense of dignity and pride that is amazing."
Biden took issue with the popular notion that Kennedy's death represents "the end of an era." He said, "Take a look at this incredible family. Take a look at this generation of Kennedys that possesses more talent . . . more grit and more grace than I've ever seen." Biden concluded, "Because of you, the dream still lives."
Many of the speakers reflected on Kennedy's ability to reach across Washington's partisan divide and forge alliances and friendships with conservative Republicans.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) drew laughter by referring to himself and Kennedy as "the odd couple." Hatch said, "There's few people with whom I have less in common," calling Kennedy an "affable Irishman" who was born rich and went to elite schools, and himself a "teetotaling Mormon bishop."
"The truth is, he and I didn't agree on much," Hatch said. But he drew long applause when he mentioned how he and Kennedy worked on legislation to extend federal health insurance benefits to children from families with modest incomes.
Former senator John C. Culver (D-Iowa), who played football with Kennedy at Harvard, drew raucous laughter as he recounted at some length his initial sailing trips with Kennedy, reminding the audience that he came from a landlocked state and knew nothing about how to sail.
Although the evening memorial service was filled with personal remembrances, most of the people who waited during the day for a glimpse of the casket had never met Kennedy, but they, too, said they felt touched or inspired by him.
Paul Falconer, a Cambridge, Mass., resident, said, "I work in the health-care field. I can't think of a better way to spend the day than to come out and honor Ted Kennedy and all that he did" for health care. He added, "Thank God for Ted Kennedy."
Kelly Redmond, a massage therapist from Arlington, Mass., was looking very Irish-American, with the colors of the Irish flag affixed to her handbag.
"I just grew up with the Kennedy family taking care of every man, every woman," she said. "Being an advocate for all of us. Civil rights. Women's rights. Gay rights. Everything."
"It's like losing my father again," she said.