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Obama: Kennedy ‘Greatest senator of our time’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

President Barack Obama said Wednesday morning the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's ideas and ideals are weaved throughout the nation's best laws and that his friend is responsible for a more just and equal nation that has afforded opportunities for children, the poor and the sick.

He called the Massachusetts senator, who died Tuesday after battling brain cancer, a "colleague, counselor and a friend" who lived an "extraordinary life."

"The extraordinary good that he did lives on," the president said in brief remarks to reporters gathered on Martha's Vineyard, where the first family is vacationing this week.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Kennedy was the "defender of a dream" who lived until 77 and became "one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy."

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There was speculation that Mr. Obama would visit Mr. Kennedy's home in Hyannis Port, Mass., a short distance across the Nantucket Sound from his vacation spot, but the visit never materialized.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday he was grateful the nation had a chance to honor Mr. Kennedy in the year since his diagnosis, an opportunity "we were denied" when his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy were assassinated in the 1960s.

"His fight has given us ... the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye," Mr. Obama said. The nation's first black president said thanks to Mr. Kennedy by saying citizens "can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself."

In a statement early Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama declared his friend's death as the end to an "important chapter in our history."

"Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time," he said in the statement. "The Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad."

Click here to see a timeline of Mr. Kennedy's life.

Mr. Obama was awoken at 2 a.m. Wednesday by friend and White House trip director Marvin Nicholson, who has known the Kennedy family many years.

The president called Mr. Kennedy's widow, Vicki, at 2:25 a.m. with condolences.

"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend," Mr. Obama said. "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts."

Mr. Obama said that during his time in the Senate, from 2005 to 2008, he valued the "wise counsel" of the man known as the chamber's liberal lion and that Mr. Kennedy "always had time for a new colleague."

On Jan. 28, 2008, Mr. Kennedy endorsed Mr. Obama as the candidate offering a promise for the real change for which he had fought. The blockbuster news helped Mr. Obama as he battled Hillary Clinton for the party nomination. Mr. Kennedy became a frequent surrogate on the campaign trail until his diagnosis with brain cancer in May last year.

"I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency," Mr. Obama said in the statement. "And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom."

Mr. Obama offered prayers for the Kennedy family.

Last month, Mr. Obama delivered to the Pope a letter from Mr. Kennedy. The president spoke briefly with Mrs. Kennedy after the Vatican visit, the White House said.

The last time Mr. Obama spoke with the ailing senator was June 2. They discussed the president's health care efforts for less than 10 minutes, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

A tearful Vice President Joe Biden recalled his long association with Mr. Kennedy, particularly in Congress, and the impact he had on people near and far.

"He made everybody he worked with bigger, his adversaries as well as his allies," Mr. Biden said at the Energy Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he was supposed to announce American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant awards. "Every single important event of my life he was there."

Mr. Biden recalled Mr. Kennedy supporting him as a "29-year-old kid" during his first and successful run for U.S. Senate.

"I literally wouldn't be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy," Mr. Biden said amid pauses to regain his composure.

Mr. Biden also recalling how Mr. Kennedy called the hospital most every day in 1972 when Mr. Biden's family was in a car accident that killed his first wife and infant daughter.

"I'd turn around and some doctor from Massachusetts whom I never even asked for would be standing there," Mr. Biden said. "And he did that for hundreds and hundreds of people."

Mr. Biden said Mr. Kennedy's wife, Vicki, told him: "He was ready to go, Joe. But we were not ready to let him go."