- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

BOSTON | Irish eyes smiled down on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on Saturday at his funeral Mass, where he was eulogized by President Obama and, more importantly, by his sons, with family and friends gathered to pay one last tribute to the Senate icon.

With a tropical storm named Danny dumping rain across the city, three former presidents and the current commander in chief were on hand at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica to praise the man who emerged from his brothers’ shadow to carve out a career marked by triumph and tragedy.

But it was the late lawmaker’s sons who painted the lasting image of a father who refused to be beaten by life, and who taught them how to forge ahead through any travail.

At the pulpit of the soaring Catholic church packed with 1,500 people - including a quorum of fellow senators, Cabinet members, Hollywood stars and a Supreme Court justice who once clerked for the Massachusetts senator - son Ted Kennedy Jr. told a story that left his brother, Patrick, in tears.

Ted Jr. recalled that soon after losing a leg to cancer at age 12, he was urged by his father to come along for a sledding trip down their steep driveway after a snowstorm. Just getting accustomed to his new prosthetic limb, the boy slipped while walking up to the top and fell flat.

“I started to cry and I said, ‘I’ll never be able to climb up that hill,’ ” the 47-year-old Mr. Kennedy recalled.

“And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do.’ … 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.”

After the Mass in Boston, the body was flown to Andrews Air Force Base for a solemn motorcade that included a stop at the steps of the Capitol, where the lawmaker represented Massachusetts in the Senate for 47 years.

A huge crowd of colleagues, staffers and friends gathered on the Senate steps on the East Side of the Capitol for a brief tribute before the senator was buried in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, at a site close by the graves of his assassinated brothers, John and Robert. There, a priest read a letter written by the pope to Mr. Kennedy, who shortly before he died asked the pontiff to forgive his sins.

At the funeral service in Boston, son Patrick J. Kennedy, a Rhode Island congressman, told the congregation about sailing trips with his father, who died Tuesday at age 77 after suffering for more than a year from brain cancer.

“In the race, as in life, it didn’t matter how strong the forces against you were, so long as you kept driving forward,” he recalled. “There was nothing to lose. Maybe you would even come out a winner. My dad was never bowed. He never gave up, and there was no quit in dad.”

Mr. Obama, who won the presidency after Mr. Kennedy endorsed the junior Illinois senator at a critical time in his Democratic primary race against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, called the senator a “champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party and the lion of the U.S. Senate.”

“He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow,” Mr. Obama said in a eulogy that also gently made mention of Mr. Kennedy’s “personal failings and setbacks.”

But he also said that the senator’s “resilience and good humor would see Ted Kennedy through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know.”

“He lost two siblings by the age of 16. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. … He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible,” the president said.

“It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. But that was not Ted Kennedy. As he told us, ‘Individual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in - and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves.’ ”

Unlike the two sun-soaked days before, when more than 50,000 mourners filed past Mr. Kennedy’s casket at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Saturday in Boston dawned gray and cold. But the nonstop downpour did not stop hundreds of well-wishers from lining up along the roads leading to the 130-year-old basilica, where Mr. Kennedy prayed daily when his daughter, Kara, was stricken with cancer.

A steady rain pelted Mr. Kennedy’s casket as it was borne by a military honor guard into the church. American flags, old campaign signs and photographs of Mr. Kennedy dotted the street and storefronts leading up to the church, located in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods.

Mr. Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and three generations of the famed Irish-American clan, America’s version of a royal family, wiped tears away as the Rev. J. Donald Moran, a personal friend and former president of Boston College, said in his homily that in the Catholic faith “sadness is softened with hope.”

But many openly sobbed when Teddy Jr., who bore a strong resemblance to his father as a younger man, gave a moving address about his father’s tenderness and his ability to rise above the hardships of his life.

“He taught us that even our most profound losses are survivable,” he said. “He was not perfect, far from it. But my father believed in redemption, and he never surrendered, never stopped trying to right wrongs - be they his own failings, or ours.”

Guests included almost 100 members of Congress and 50 senators, among whom Mr. Kennedy earned a lasting reputation as a liberal Democrat who courted compromise with Republicans. Also on hand were former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with a range of celebrities, including actor Jack Nicholson and figures from the sports and media worlds.

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and opera great Placido Domingo provided music at the Mass, presided over by Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley.

In Washington, the cortege, led by a black hearse with a small window that showed the flag-draped coffin, moved slowly down Constitution Avenue through the gathering dusk, taking the same path that his two slain brothers took to Arlington National Cemetery.

Before seven riflemen fired three volleys into the air, his grandchildren remembered their grandfather - camping trips, sailing on his beloved boat Maya and Thanksgiving dinners.

The letter to Pope Benedict XVI from Mr. Kennedy, a Catholic, asked first for blessing and prayer in his struggle with brain cancer.

“The disease is taking its toll on me,” he admitted, saying he was “preparing for the next passage of life.”

A fortnight later, a reply arrived from the Vatican, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, told the family and friends gathered around Mr. Kennedy’s burial site.

The Vatican said that the pope asked that Mr. Kennedy “may be sustained in faith and hope and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God.”

“I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church. And would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

As darkness fell on Washington, Mr. Kennedy’s body was lowered into the ground, just 100 feet from his brothers.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide