Mrs. Kennedy, Kara, Edward, Patrick, Curran, Caroline, members of the Kennedy
family, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. The world
will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy; a champion
for those who had none; the soul of the Democratic Party; and the lion of the
U.S. Senate - a man whose name graces nearly one thousand laws, and who penned
more than three hundred himself.
But those of us who loved him, and ache with his passing, know Ted Kennedy by
the other titles he held: Father. Brother. Husband. Uncle Teddy, or as he was
often known to his younger nieces and nephews, "The Grand Fromage," or "The Big
Cheese." I, like so many others in the city where he worked for nearly half a
century, knew him as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend.
Ted Kennedy was the baby of the family who became its patriarch; the restless
dreamer who became its rock. He was the sunny, joyful child, who bore the brunt
of his brothers' teasing, but learned quickly how to brush it off. When they
tossed him off a boat because he didn't know what a jib was, six-year-old Teddy
got back in and learned to sail. When a photographer asked the newly-elected
Bobby to step back at a press conference because he was casting a shadow on his
younger brother, Teddy quipped, "It'll be the same in Washington."
This spirit of 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
sixteen. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He
said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life.
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.
It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. And it would have
been easy for Teddy 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. As he told us, "...[I]ndividual faults and
frailties are no excuse to give in - and no exemption from the common obligation
to give of ourselves." Indeed, Ted was the "Happy Warrior" that the poet William
Wordsworth spoke of when he wrote:
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
Through his own suffering, Ted Kennedy became more alive to the plight and
suffering of others - the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young
soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of
what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from. The landmark laws
that he championed -- the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act,
immigration reform, children's health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act
-all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those
with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who
were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the
dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not,
and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the
years would allow.
We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened,
fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care
or workers' rights or civil rights. And yet, while his causes became deeply
personal, his disagreements never did. While he was seen by his fiercest critics
as a partisan lightning rod, that is not the prism through which Ted Kennedy saw
the world, nor was it the prism through which his colleagues saw him. He was a
product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of
party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect -
a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.
And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time. He did it
by hewing to principle, but also by seeking compromise and common cause - not
through deal-making and horse-trading alone, but through friendship, and
kindness, and humor. There was the time he courted Orrin Hatch's support for the
Children's Health Insurance Program by having his Chief of Staff serenade the
Senator with a song Orrin had written himself; the time he delivered shamrock
cookies on a china plate to sweeten up a crusty Republican colleague; and the
famous story of how he won the support of a Texas Committee Chairman on an
immigration bill. Teddy walked into a meeting with a plain manila envelope, and
showed only the Chairman that it was filled with the Texan's favorite cigars.
When the negotiations were going well, he would inch the envelope closer to the
Chairman. When they weren't, he would pull it back. Before long, the deal was
It was only a few years ago, on St. Patrick's Day, when Teddy buttonholed me on
the floor of the Senate for my support on a certain piece of legislation that
was coming up for vote. I gave him my pledge, but expressed my skepticism that
it would pass. But when the roll call was over, the bill garnered the votes it
needed, and then some. I looked at Teddy with astonishment and asked how he had
pulled it off. He just patted me on the back, and said "Luck of the Irish!"
Of course, luck had little to do with Ted Kennedy's legislative success, and he
knew that. A few years ago, his father-in-law told him that he and Daniel
Webster just might be the two greatest senators of all time. Without missing a
beat, Teddy replied, "What did Webster do?"
But though it is Ted Kennedy's historic body of achievements we will remember,
it is his giving heart that we will miss. It was the friend and colleague who
was always the first to pick up the phone and say, "I'm sorry for your loss," or
"I hope you feel better," or "What can I do to help?" It was the boss who was so
adored by his staff that over five hundred spanning five decades showed up for
his 75th birthday party. It was the man who sent birthday wishes and thank you
notes and even his own paintings to so many who never imagined that a U.S.
Senator would take the time to think about someone like them. I have one of
those paintings in my private study - a Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a
freshman legislator who happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into
his office the first week he arrived in Washington; by the way, that's my second
favorite gift from Teddy and Vicki after our dog Bo. And it seems like everyone
has one of those stories - the ones that often start with "You wouldn't believe
who called me today."
Ted Kennedy was the father who looked after not only his own three children, but
John's and Bobby's as well. He took them camping and taught them to sail. He
laughed and danced with them at birthdays and weddings; cried and mourned with
them through hardship and tragedy; and passed on that same sense of service and
selflessness that his parents had instilled in him. Shortly after Ted walked
Caroline down the aisle and gave her away at the altar, he received a note from
Jackie that read, "On you the carefree youngest brother fell a burden a hero
would have begged to be spared. We are all going to make it because you were
always there with your love."
Not only did the Kennedy family make it because of Ted's love - he made it
because of theirs; and especially because of the love and the life he found in
Vicki. After so much loss and so much sorrow, it could not have been easy for
Ted Kennedy to risk his heart again. That he did is a testament to how deeply he
loved this remarkable woman from Louisiana. And she didn't just love him back.
As Ted would often acknowledge, Vicki saved him. She gave him strength and
purpose; joy and friendship; and stood by him always, especially in those last,
We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials
or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God's plan for
What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love,
and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we
care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for
ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can
strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed
with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it
well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact
on the lives of other human beings.
This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy. He once said of his brother
Bobby that he need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in
life, and I imagine he would say the same about himself. The greatest
expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was, but
he surpassed them all because of who he became. We do not weep for him today
because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. 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.
In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each
one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack. But he
didn't stop there. He kept calling and checking up on them. He fought through
red tape to get them assistance and grief counseling. He invited them sailing,
played with their children, and would write each family a letter whenever the
anniversary of that terrible day came along. To one widow, he wrote the
"As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory
of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one
would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from
the love they gave us."
We carry on.
Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he
has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who
grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept
alive, and a single, enduring image - the image of a man on a boat; white mane
tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may
come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.
May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.