Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was celebrated Saturday for “the good he did, the dream he kept alive,” his funeral inside a soaring Catholic church a memorial to one man’s life and a remarkable political era now ended.
Row upon row of mourners sat facing the casket bearing Kennedy’s mortal remains, President Barack Obama as well as previous occupants of the White House, enough senators to make up a quorum and dozens of members of the most famous political family in the land.
One son, Patrick, wept quietly as another son, Teddy Jr., spoke from the pulpit of the day years ago, shortly after losing a leg to cancer, that he slipped walking up an icy driveway as he headed out to go sledding. “I started to cry and I said, `I’ll never be able to climb up that hill,”’ said Teddy Jr.
“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.”’
Rain beat down steadily as Kennedy’s coffin was borne by a military honor guard into the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and again when it was brought back out to the hearse for the trip to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
In life, the senator had visited the burial ground often to mourn his brothers, John and Robert, killed in their 40s, more than a generation ago, by assassins’ bullets.
“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,” Obama said in a eulogy that also gently made mention of Kennedy’s “personal failings and setbacks.”
As a member of the Senate, Kennedy was a “veritable force of nature,” the president said. But more than that, the “baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock.”
Those left behind to mourn “grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive” Obama said inside the packed church.
Hundreds lined nearby sidewalks, ignoring the rain, as the funeral procession passed.
“I said to myself this morning, ‘No matter what the weather, I’m going, I don’t care if I have to swim,” said Lillian Bennett, 59, who added she was a longtime Kennedy supporter and determined to get as close as she could to the invitation-only funeral.
“The Mass of Christian burial weaves together memory and hope,” said the Rev. Mark R. Hession, parish priest at the church in a working class neighborhood of Boston.
There was plenty of both in a two-hour service filled with references to Kennedy’s political accomplishments and personal recollections of his private life. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo provided musical grace notes.
Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, his sole surviving sibling, Jean, and Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, carefully arranged the cloth funeral
pall atop the coffin.
Like others, Teddy Jr., touched on his father’s legacy.
“He answered Uncle Joe’s call to patriotism, Uncle Jack’s call to public service and Bobby’s determination to seek a newer world. Unlike them, he lived to be a grandfather,” he said.
Joseph Kennedy Jr. died in World War II, John F. Kennedy was the nation’s 35th president when he was assassinated in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was killed five years later as he campaigned for the presidency.
Kennedy died Tuesday at 77, more than a year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Saturday’s events marked the end of four days of public and private mourning meant to emphasize Kennedy’s 47 years in the Senate from Massachusetts, his standing as the foremost liberal Democrat of the late 20th century yet a legislator who courted compromise with Republicans, a family man and last heir to a dynasty that began in the years after World War II.
Thousands of mourners filed past his flag-draped coffin earlier in the week when Kennedy lay in repose at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Republicans and Democrats alike recalled his political career in a bipartisan evening of laughter-filled speechmaking on Friday.
Even the church had special meaning for the family. Kennedy prayed there daily several years ago during his daughter Kara’s successful battle with lung cancer.