Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama and "The Legacy" (with video)

"At funeral Mass, Obama hails Kennedy as ‘a kind and tender hero’" (Boston Globe), with video (15:14):
Presidents and porters, dignitaries and dishwashers bade final farewell yesterday to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who was memorialized inside a grand church on a crowded street in a city for which he had a boundless love. He was the “soul of the Democratic Party,’’ in the words of Barack Obama, and “my best friend,’’ in those of his namesake son.
The funeral brought the city to a standstill and the 1,500 mourners inside the steamy basilica to hearty laughter and tears. Rain-soaked onlookers lined the procession routes to wave goodbye as the cortege made its way to the church and, later, to Hanscom Air Force Base, for a flight to Washington and his burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

An array of the nation’s most powerful politicians, Kennedy family members, and diverse celebrities crammed into pews at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mission Hill for a two-hour service that was steeped in family lore and Catholic ritual. It began late but simply, with a procession of priests bearing incense and military officers carrying the casket down the center aisle of a silent church to the barely audible commands of “Hup. Hup. Hup.’’

Edward M. Kennedy Jr. left the mourners spellbound when he described a snowy day shortly after he lost a leg to bone cancer when he was 12 years old. His father urged him to coast down a hill in front of their house, but the son, frustrated because he could not climb the icy driveway with one leg, declared he was giving up.

“He said: ‘I know you’ll do it; there is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day,’ ’’ his son recalled from the pulpit, removing his glasses to rub away tears. “Sure enough, he held me around my waist, and we slowly made it to the top. And, you know, at age 12, losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.’’

The funeral was the centerpiece of a solemn day of remembrance that began in the early morning at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester and ended on a grassy hillside after dusk in Arlington National Cemetery, where Kennedy was laid to rest in a grave next to his two brothers. Just before that, hordes of congressional staff members and everyday Washingtonians had filled the Capitol steps and lined the streets of Washington in a farewell of their own.

In Boston, in the soaring basilica known as Mission Church, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat in the first row next to Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill. In the next pew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat beside former president George W. Bush and her husband, the former president. Nearby sat another former president, Jimmy Carter.

“He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not,’’ Obama said in the eulogy. “And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.’’

“We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office,’’ Obama said. “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.’’

After the eulogy, Obama hugged Kennedy’s tearful widow, Victoria, with one of his hands resting on the casket.

Prior to the service, Obama had walked in drizzling rain from his hotel, the Westin Copley Place, to meet privately with her for about 10 minutes at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

The funeral capped three days of public mourning and celebrations of Kennedy’s 77 years of living and 47 years as a United States senator.

The funeral service was marked by an extraordinary collection of celebrities from Boston, Washington, and beyond, including singer Tony Bennett, actor Jack Nicholson, Celtics legend Bill Russell, and the ownership trio of Kennedy’s beloved Boston Red Sox. The crowd also included a healthy dose of his current and former staff members, legendary in Washington circles for their legislative prowess, and the kinds of everyday people whom Kennedy befriended through his politics and policies.

As the drizzle became a downpour outside, the church was brightly lighted, and sounds from some of the world’s most renowned musicians rose toward the arched, soaring ceilings and echoed off the marble walls.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a mournful “Sarabande’’ from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6. The melancholy voice of tenor Placido Domingo filled the sanctuary as he sang “Panis Angelicus.’’ And mezzo-soprano Susan Graham held the congregation entranced with Shubert’s “Ave Maria.’’

At the end, after Kennedy was commended to God by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the congregation sang “America the Beautiful,’’ accompanied by a 3,200-pipe organ, as the casket was wheeled back down the center aisle, guided by some of the senator’s nephews and nieces.

The church, stuffy from the capacity congregation and the gathering storm outside, featured the odd sight of men in earpieces lining the walls and gleaming motorcades parked next to the weathered buildings outside. The church grew quiet when the Kennedy family began streaming down the center aisle.

“A few scant miles from here, the city on the hill stands less tall against the morning sky,’’ said Rev. J. Donald Monan, former president of Boston College and a Kennedy family friend. “And the sea out toward . . . Nantucket is a bit more forlorn at the loss of one of its most ardent lovers.’’

In the homily, the Rev. Mark R. Hession recalled the significance that the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help held for the senator.

“When critical illness threatened his own daughter, he came to this place daily to pray,’’ Hession said, referring to Kara Kennedy’s successful battle against cancer. “He came here, like generations before him, seeking the healing hand of God. We’re reminded that the most public personalities also live a very personal existence. This church was the place of private prayer for a public man.’’

Kennedy’s grandchildren, grandnieces, grandnephews, nieces, and nephews delivered intercessions that relied on words that Kennedy once uttered: That the nation should stand against violence, hate, and war; that people from all walks of life should be respected; that health care should be a right for all Americans; and, as he famously said at last year’s Democratic National Convention, “The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on.’’

“Lord, hear our prayer,’’ the congregation said after each petition.

The most memorable tributes came from Kennedy’s sons.

Ted Jr. recalled how his father was a storyteller, lover of costume parties, accomplished painter, and loved “everything French - cheese, wine, and women.’’

“He was a mountain climber, navigator, skipper, tactician, airplane pilot, rodeo rider, ski jumper, dog lover, and all around adventurer,’’ his son said. “Our family vacations left us all injured and exhausted.’’

He told of how his father would leave money on the sink for hotel staff who made his bed. He mentioned how his father was recruited by the Green Bay Packers out of college, but chose law school instead. He confided that his father was “a dinner table debater and devil’s advocate.’’

“He even taught me some of life’s harder lessons,’’ Kennedy said, “such as how to love Republicans.’’

Kennedy’s other son, Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island, spoke of being a young boy who suffered from chronic asthma attacks and throbbing headaches after using his medications every night. On family vacations, a special nonallergenic, nonsmoking room had to be reserved for him. His father would hold a cold, wet towel to his forehead until he could go to sleep.

“Having asthma was like hitting the jackpot for a child who craved his father’s love and attention,’’ he said. “When his light shined on me alone, there was no better feeling in all of the world.’’

He also spoke of the great joy he took in joining his father in the US Congress.

Kennedy was the chubby-faced baby of the family who became a patriarch for a clan that most Americans have seen so often on television that they feel they are part of the family, too.

As Obama said, Kennedy lost two siblings by the age of 16, and saw two more assassinated. His sister, Eunice, died two weeks before he did, he buried three nephews, and he saw two of his own children battle cancer. In one of the few references to his personal foibles, Obama added that Kennedy “experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.’’

“It’s a string of events that would have broken a lesser man,’’ Obama said. “And it would have been easy for Ted to let himself become bitter and hardened, to surrender to self-pity and regret, to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that. But that was not Ted Kennedy.’’
Obama concluded with a final, stirring picture of Kennedy: “The image of a man on a boat, white mane tousled, smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for whatever storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.

“May God bless Ted Kennedy,’’ he added. “And may he rest in eternal peace.’’
Howie P.S.: Here are two more stories on this theme, "President Obama inherits ‘Legacy’" (Boston Herald) and "For Obama, a sea of inspiration for Kennedy eulogy" (Chicago Tribune). Video (04:21) of guests arriving at the funeral here.

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