Ted Kennedy's 40-Year Search for Redemption

Senator John McCain reflects on the life of his friend and colleague, Edward Kennedy, and remembers Kennedy's ability to reach beyond party lines. Video by AP
By Vince Bzdek
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

When Bobby Kennedy was assassinated while running for president, his 37-year-old baby brother's knees buckled under the weight of it all.

The grief, with three brothers now dead before their time. The family legacy of power, politics and service, now placed on his unsteady shoulders.

So Edward M. Kennedy did what he knew -- and loved. He took to the sea. For six weeks afterward, he drifted, cutting himself off from everything.

He would often just lie in his sloop and stare at the sky, a man dislocated and disconnected, according to family friends. He was oblivious for a time to his wife, Joan, and his children, unable to articulate his grief.

Unable to find peace.

A year later came the dark waters of Chappaquiddick, Ted Kennedy driving off a bridge, escaping death while his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, did not. The incident left a blemish on the Kennedy family legacy that many people thought would never be erased.

The accident occurred the same weekend America landed men on the moon, a stirring fulfillment of his brother John's challenge eight years earlier. The Boston Globe played the Chappaquiddick story higher than the moon landing on its front page.

The youngest Kennedy son was a man whose life was a patchwork of just such startling contradictions:

The callow youth who was kicked out of Harvard for cheating, only to be given an honorary degree there 60 years later.

The unwavering liberal icon who forged working relationships and warm friendships with Senate uber-Republicans such as Utah's Orrin Hatch, Wyoming's Mike Enzi and Arizona's John McCain.

The reckless, hard-drinking thrill-seeker prowling Georgetown bars at night while accumulating an unmatched record of achievement in the Senate during the day.

The straying husband but devoted father and uncle.

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