'We Loved This Kind And Tender Hero'

A Day of Mourning, Celebration

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.
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.

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