By Dan Balz, Keith B. Richburg and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 30, 2009
On the day he was carried to his final resting place, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was remembered Saturday as a legislator of almost unequalled prowess, a political force who left a lasting imprint on the country and a husband, father and patriarch whose private acts of love and devotion helped his star-crossed family endure tragedy and misfortune.
President Obama led the mourners at a solemn Roman Catholic Mass attended by 1,500 people, including three former presidents, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, where the Kennedy family dynasty was born. A steady rain fell, adding an elegiac touch to a day already drenched in sorrow.
After a last flight to Washington, the Massachusetts senator who served for 47 years was laid to rest in gathering darkness near his two slain brothers, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, on sloping ground at Arlington National Cemetery.
Before the burial ceremony, the hearse carrying Kennedy stopped at the plaza on the East Front of the Capitol. There former Kennedy staffers, lawmakers, other congressional aides and members of the public were gathered to pay their respects.
As the crowd broke into applause, Kennedy's widow, Vicki, emerged, offering embraces. After a short prayer service and the singing of "America the Beautiful," the motorcade proceeded along Constitution Avenue to the cemetery.
Kennedy (D-Mass.) died Tuesday night after being diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago. His death produced an outpouring of emotion and tributes from around the world that was captured eloquently on Saturday.
"We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office," Obama told the friends, dignitaries and Kennedy family members seated in the majestic basilica in Boston. "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."
The president's remarks were largely shorn of political overtones, as he concentrated on the example Kennedy set for fellow politicians and ordinary citizens alike through his public and private works. "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," he said.
Obama spoke of Kennedy's resilience in the face of "events that would have broken a lesser man," recalling that he was the youngest of nine children but became a rock to his family. Summoning the spirit he attributed to Kennedy in times of difficulty, Obama said, "We carry on."
Obama's closest reference to the contemporary political climate as Washington prepares for a fall struggle over health care came when he said of Kennedy: "He was the product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect -- a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots."
Before Obama's eulogy, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. and Patrick J. Kennedy offered poignant memories of their father that brought both tears and laughter from the audience.
Ted Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to cancer when he was 12, recalled his father's strength and inspiration as he struggled with his physical handicap. His voice choked with emotion, he remembered a sledding expedition on a snowy day not long after his leg was amputated. After he had fallen, his father helped him climb an icy hill when he doubted his own physical capacity to do so.
"We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day," the younger Kennedy said his father told him. He added: "You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father's greatest lessons."
Ted Kennedy Jr., 47, a lawyer and investment banker who lives in Connecticut, quickly turned the congregation's tears to laughter when he recalled his father's adventuresome spirit and his determination that his children share it. "Our family vacations left us all injured and exhausted," he said.
Patrick Kennedy, 42, an eight-term House member from Rhode Island, remembered how his father would sit by his bedside, applying a cold, wet towel to his forehead to provide relief from the pain of headaches induced by asthma medication. "He remained to me a magical figure," he said.
Earlier, the Rev. Mark R. Hession, who was friend and family priest to Edward and Vicki Kennedy on Cape Cod, delivered the homily. He connected the senator's commitment to social justice and the needs of the poor to Kennedy's experience as part of "a vibrant and caring family" whose narrative "is woven throughout the history of the nation for the past half-century."
Hession noted that the choice of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for Kennedy's funeral Mass reflected the intersection between the senator's public and private lives. Kennedy came to the church regularly to pray for the recovery of his daughter Kara as she fought her own battle against cancer several years ago. But its location, in a neighborhood where immigrants and minorities struggle to provide their families a better life, symbolized the work of Kennedy's political life.
The day's formal ceremonies began at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where the senator's body had lain in repose on Thursday and Friday, viewed by an estimated 50,000 people.
The library was the site Friday of an exuberant three-hour service of music, storytelling, tears and laughter. Kennedy's colleagues, friends and family members shared personal memories of a larger-than-life figure who overcame personal failings, turned his life around and ended up with a reputation as one of the finest legislators in the nation's history.
Saturday morning, Obama paid a short private visit to Vicki Kennedy. He walked across the street from his hotel to offer condolences to the widow of the man whose endorsement provided a critical boost to his candidacy during the 2008 Democratic nomination battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At the library, Vicki Kennedy greeted a delegation of senators and House members. Throughout the day, she was praised as her husband's friend and partner, whose love and devotion helped Kennedy turn his life around and make his final years some of his best.
When it was time to leave the library, Kennedy's flag-draped casket was covered with plastic to protect against the rain. It was carried by a military honor guard walking in deliberate steps to a hearse for the drive to the basilica.
Inside the church, a remarkable collection of people gathered. They included former president Bill Clinton and Hillary ; former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura; former president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn; and Vice President Biden and his wife Jill.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat in the front row with the Bidens; the former presidents and their wives were a row behind them. Obama and Bill Clinton, tense adversaries during the Democratic primaries, chatted amiably as they waited for the service to begin.
Other mourners included former vice president Al Gore, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a former Kennedy aide.
Outside on the steps, huddled under large black umbrellas, stood the honorary pallbearers. They included Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who, like Obama, owed his nomination for president in part to Kennedy's endorsement. Kerry had become devoted to Kennedy over the years.
Bells began to toll at 10:45 a.m. as the motorcade arrived and, a few minutes later, Kennedy's casket was taken from the hearse. Vicki Kennedy and other family members stood vigil, water rolling off their umbrellas, as the casket was carried up the steep steps into the church. The procession included priests wearing white vestments and Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, distinctive in scarlet.
The responsorial psalm, Psalm 72, was read by Kara Kennedy, and it offered testimony to Kennedy's lifelong commitment to the poor and dispossessed: "For he shall rescue the poor man when he cries out and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save."
The Mass included music from cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tenor Placido Domingo, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who gave a haunting rendition of "Ave Maria."
The rain turned hard as the service ended and the carefully choreographed ceremonies fell significantly behind schedule. Kennedy's body, accompanied by family members and others, was taken to Hanscom Air Force Base for the flight to Andrews Air Force Base.
By the time the funeral procession reached Arlington National Cemetery, the sun had set and the gravesite was shrouded in darkness. It sits 100 feet away from Robert F. Kennedy's in an arc that includes the gravesite and eternal flame for John F. Kennedy.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, a friend of Kennedy's, presided and read from a letter the senator had written to Pope Benedict XVI, which Obama had delivered to the pontiff in Rome. In the letter, Kennedy wrote he had been "an imperfect human being but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path."
His grandchildren spoke lovingly of their relationship with him and a military rifle squad fired off three volleys. In his prayer, McCarrick asked God to bring Kennedy "to everlasting peace and rest."
Richburg reported from Boston. Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.