- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

BOSTON | Republicans and Democrats came together Friday night in a bipartisan spirit to celebrate the life of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, but politics seeped into the event, with Sen. John Kerry declaring that Congress will pass health care reform “in his honor.”

A cavalcade of powerful politicians gathered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on Dorchester Bay for a private service featuring music, laughter and occasionally ribald stories. While top Republican Sens. John McCain and Orrin G. Hatch were on hand, Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd made light of their support for some facets of the late senator’s always liberal agenda.

“It is to their, of course, credit that they so often supported Teddy’s efforts. And, I say in some jest, it is to Teddy’s great credit that he rarely supported theirs,” Mr. Dodd said to howls of laughter about his Senate colleague, who died this week of a brain tumor at age 77.

Mr. Kerry, who was introduced as the “now senior senator from Massachusetts,” was moved to tears as he spoke of the legacy left by his colleague, who he noted served more than 17,000 days in America’s chief deliberative body.

“He stood against judges who would turn back the clock on constitutional rights, he stood against the war in Iraq - his proudest vote - and for nearly four decades and all through his final days he labored with all his might to make health care a right for all Americans, and we will do that in his honor,” Mr. Kerry said.

Republicans, while staying in the spirit of celebration, fired back a few soft salvos at their longtime foe. Delivering a lengthy remembrance of his friend, Mr. Hatch recounted one evening when Mr. Kennedy was “feeling no pain.”

“He was with his friend, Chris Dodd,” Mr. Hatch said to laughter. The Utah Mormon asked Mr. Kennedy if he would speak to 200 church missionaries when they come to Boston. “Done,” Mr. Kennedy said. Oh, and could he also procure the historic Faneuil Hall for the gathering? “Done.”

“The next day … I saw him later in the day and his hands were shaking and he said, ‘Orrin,’ he said, ‘what else did I agree to last night?’ ”

The teetotalling, nonsmoking Republican also recalled that Mr. Kennedy once dressed as an Elvis impersonator at a staff holiday party, would frequently blow cigar smoke in his direction during their early years of political committee debates, and “just knew how to push people’s buttons.”

Mr. Hatch also said that when he first ran for office in the 1970s, he campaigned on a platform that included stopping the Massachusetts liberal.

“I stated numerous times on the campaign trail that I planned to come to Washington to fight Ted Kennedy. In fact, I used to say that Kennedy’s name was my very best fundraiser in the country,” Mr. Hatch said.

But the two became fast friends, and soon were known in the clubby Senate as “the odd couple.”

“If you would’ve told me that he would’ve become one of my closest friends in the world, I probably would’ve suggested that you need professional help. But that’s exactly what happened,” he said.

Mr. McCain also got in a few parting shots at his dear departed friend.

“We disagreed on most issues,” the Arizona Republican said. “But I admired his passion for his convictions, his patience with the hard and sometimes dull work of legislating, and his uncanny sense for when differences could be bridged.”

But the evening, for the most part, transcended politics, with family and friends remembering the brother of Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, not for his famous name, but for the legacy he left behind.

Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of Robert F. Kennedy, marveled at his uncle’s ability to take on the role of father to the families his slain brothers.

“Every single one of my brothers and sisters needed a father, and we gained one through Uncle Teddy,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, for so many of us, we just needed someone to hang onto. And Teddy was always there to hang onto. He had such a big heart, and he shared that heart with all of us.”

Mr. Kennedy’s niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, said traveling in the motorcade from the Kennedy compound to the JFK Library reminded her of the family history trips her Uncle Teddy would organize for her and her cousins when they were children. Over the years, they would visit the Washington Monument, Valley Forge, the Brooklyn Bridge and Bunker Hill, among other sites.

“Now Teddy has become a part of history and we are the ones who will have to do all the things he would have done, for us, for each other and for our country,” she said.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Mr. Kennedy became a “big brother” to him when he first joined the Senate 36 years ago, and encouraged him to keep his seat after his wife and daughter had been killed in a car accident. He called Mr. Kennedy a “historic figure, a heroic figure” and said the Kennedy era would live on in the next generations.

The remembrance, at times, took on the feel of an Irish wake, with friends telling stories about the late senator. Mr. Dodd told of a phone call he received from Mr. Kennedy as he recovered from prostate surgery.

” ‘Well,’ he roared, ‘between going through prostate cancer surgery and doing town-hall meetings, you made the right choice!’ ” Mr. Dodd said. “And though he was dying, and I was hurting, believe me, he had me howling with laughter in the recovery room as he made a few choice comments, I cannot repeat, about catheters.”

Mr. Kennedy’s friend, Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell, sang Mr. Kennedy’s favorite song, “The Impossible Dream” from the musical “Man of La Mancha.”

More than 50,000 people paid their final respects to Mr. Kennedy over the past two days, filing past his flag-draped casket in a sun-splashed room in his brother’s presidential library.

The throngs of mourners who lined up outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum was so long Thursday night that the senator’s family decided to keep the building open an extra three hours, until 2 a.m. On Friday, so many well-wishers turned out that officials were forced to close the line hours before 3 p.m., when Mr. Kennedy’s body was moved.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s amazing,” said Ted Carmichael, 36, of Detroit, who had come with his family to visit Boston over the summer break. “He wasn’t my senator, but I admired him. And, judging from this line, so did a lot of people,” he said as he took his place at the end of the line shortly after 10 a.m., when thousands were already ahead of him.

Tina Rasmussen, 67, didn’t travel as far, just a few miles from her home in the Back Bay section of Boston. But she said despite the long lines, which she’d seen on television, she felt she should come to pay her respects.

“I didn’t agree with everything he ever did, and I got mad at him from time to time, but that’s family, isn’t it? I realized since he passed away that he was like family, like an older brother. And he was always out there, trying to help all of us in Massachusetts,” she said.

Members of the Kennedy family, including daughter Kara Kennedy Allen, nephew Tim Shriver and 81-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, the senator’s sister and the last surviving Kennedy sibling, greeted visitors throughout the day at the library. On Thursday, his widow, Vicki, shook hands with hundreds of visitors, telling nearly every one: “Thank you so much for coming.”

Five members of a military honor guard, all in dress uniform and standing at attention, stood around the casket in a high-ceilinged room, its floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Boston Harbor. Large photos greeted mourners on their way into the room, including one of Mr. Kennedy as a boy with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and a 1960s-era shot of Mr. Kennedy with his slain brothers, Jack and Bobby, all smiling mischievously.

The path mourners took through the library passed dozens of family photos, one on which Mr. Kennedy, then a toddler, sat atop older brother Jack’s shoulders. A glass case was filled with photos of the 47-year senator with presidents, kings, and world leaders, from former President Bill Clinton to former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Among the visitors Friday was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said Mr. Kennedy helped change the country through his work for minorities, the disabled and the poor.

“As a rich person, no one reached back further for the poor or exalted them higher,” Mr. Jackson said.

A funeral Mass is scheduled at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica - better known as the Mission Church - in Boston on Saturday. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo will perform, and President Obama will deliver the eulogy.

All the living former presidents are expected to attend except for George H.W. Bush. Spokesman Jim McGrath said Friday that the 85-year-old Mr. Bush feels his son’s presence will “amply and well represent” the family.

Mr. Kennedy’s body was taken to the JFK Library Thursday by a motorcade of family members and friends who had celebrated a private Mass at the family compound in Hyannis Port, 70 miles away, where Mr. Kennedy spent his final days.

The Kennedy family added a stop Saturday in Washington before the “lion of the Senate” is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

After the Boston funeral, Mr. Kennedy’s body will be flown to Andrews Air Force Base. A large motorcade will then proceed to the Capitol, arriving at 4:30 p.m.

“The senator’s motorcade will stop at the Senate steps for a brief prayer so that Senate staff and members of the broader Senate community with whom the senator worked can bid a final farewell,” the family said on its Web site, tedkennedy.org.

After the stop on the East Plaza of the Capitol, where the motorcade will enter through the Independence Avenue entrance and proceed past the Senate chamber steps, the hearse will then proceed to Arlington National Cemetery via Constitution Avenue.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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