Thousands Gather in Washington to Say Goodbye to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Thousands of Kennedy admirers stood outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston while family, colleagues and friends filled the church to say final goodbyes to the senator.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

Washington bade farewell to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday with Irish song and hearty cheers, with shouts of "Thank you!" and tearful goodbyes waved from thronged sidewalks, as his funeral cortege wound from the Capitol along Constitution Avenue and crossed the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery on a gentle summer evening.

A group of well-wishers at the Capitol sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" as his hearse approached, the flag-draped coffin visible through an oval window. Along Constitution Avenue, people in shorts and bright summer clothing applauded and waved flags as his motorcade passed, and children on bicycles followed on the sidewalk.

It was a heartfelt but upbeat salute -- much different from the anguished departures of his slain brothers a generation ago. This Kennedy burial was marked by a street trumpeter playing along Constitution Avenue and a little boy saluting from atop a grown-up's shoulders. And it ended after dark with the sound of taps and crickets and the monuments of Washington illuminated in the distance.

"Bye-bye, Teddy," Peggy Etheridge, 50, a federal employee from Clinton had said earlier in the day. "We love you."

Outside the cemetery, people lined both sides of Memorial Drive as the motorcade crossed the gentle arc of Memorial Bridge and passed the huge stone eagles standing watch at the entrance to the drive.

Demory Martin, 17, and his mother, Claire Green, who came from Woodbridge, sat on the grass drawing posters with colored markers. "THANK YOU TEDDY," Demory's sign read. He wore an Obama T-shirt and said he admired Kennedy, who shared the president's views on health care.

To his mother, an Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, Kennedy was an "icon of liberal values" who "spent a lot of time getting a lot of things done." He was "THE PEOPLE'S SENATOR," her sign said.

Greg Smith brought three of his five children from their home in Bethesda to pay tribute to the senator. The 43-year-old lawyer was raised in "the only Democratic family" in a conservative town in central Illinois. He grew up feeling like the Kennedys were a part of his extended Irish Catholic family. There were at least as many pictures of Kennedys on his walls as his own siblings, he said.

Among them was the five-foot-high election poster of President John F. Kennedy that his grandmother, an election official in their small town, kept in her front window. He also had a picture of himself with Ted Kennedy that he got on his first trip to Washington when he was in high school. He camped outside the senator's office until he came by and had the chance to meet him.

He sent the photo to the senator, who signed it: "With my thanks for your friendship. Ted Kennedy."

Some present Saturday had bade other Kennedys farewell.

On Nov. 25, 1963, Lynnette Wynn, a 21-year-old government employee in the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army, watched from a hillside on Constitution Avenue as President Kennedy's coffin passed.

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