Washington, Aug 29 (DPA) Amid tears and laughter, in words and music, the family, friends and political rivals of Edward “Ted” Kennedy remembered the former US senator at a private “Celebration of Life” memorial Friday night in Boston.
“He bore more hurt and heartache than most human beings are ever asked to endure, but at every opportunity he brought hope and joy and optimism to more people than we will ever know,” said Paul Kirk Jr, chairman of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where the ceremony was held.
Sharing anecdotes from decades past and recent weeks, Kennedy’s friends and colleagues recalled his passion for public service, his optimism, his large-heartedness, dignity, generosity and refusal to quit.
Vice President Joe Biden and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who both spent decades as Kennedy’s Senate colleagues, were among those who spoke at the memorial.
Beginning on a deeply personal note, Biden said: “In an astonishing and totally unexpected way he ended up playing a part in every critical moment of my adult life … He crept into my heart and before I knew it, he owned a piece of it.”
Biden attributed his success in politics to Kennedy. “I wouldn’t be standing here as vice-president of the United States were it not for Teddy. He was the catalyst for my improbable win as a young senator.”
McCain recalled Kennedy’s infectious laugh, which “could … cheer up the most beleaguered soul”.
“When we were agreed on an issue, and worked together to make a little progress for the country on an important issue, he was the best ally you could have,” McCain said.
“I think I’m going to miss him more than I can say. We disagreed on most issues but …he taught me to be a better senator. The place won’t be the same without him.”
Kennedy’s allies and political opponents spoke of his life-long goal – overhauling the US health care system – which is still being debated in Congress. Legislation could be put to a vote in the coming months.
“He fought to make health care a right for all Americans, and we will do that in his honour,” said Senator John Kerry, the 2004 presidential candidate whom Kennedy supported. “He changed the course of history,” Kerry said.
Earlier Friday, mourners gathered in Boston for the second day to pay their respects to the enduring political icon of the Kennedy dynasty who passed away late Tuesday, aged 77, at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, after a battle with brain cancer.
More than 50,000 people filed through the Kennedy library to view the casket draped with an American flag and under a US miliary honour guard.
Mass is scheduled to take place at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston Saturday morning, when President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy.
Kennedy’s body will then be transported to Washington for a late afternoon burial at Arlington National Cemetery, the graveyard near the Pentagon that is the final resting place of many of America’s war dead.
Kennedy will be buried not far from the graves of his assassinated brothers – president John F. Kennedy who was gunned in 1963 while in office and Robert Kennedy who was also fatally shot in 1968 while campaigning for the presidency.
At the private Boston memorial, Senator Chris Dodd – Kennedy’s closest friend in the Senate – said: “John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired our America, Robert Kennedy challenged our America, and Teddy changed our America.”
Despite the scandal that sometimes dogged Kennedy and his family, he was praised for his tireless fight against poverty and for better health care during his 47 years in the Senate and as the backbone of the Democratic Party.