By Jim Snyder - 08/28/09 10:58 PM EDT
Family members and former colleagues and aides recalled Edward Kennedy as a man of both tenacity and humor who fought for great causes as a U.S. senator but also did innumerable favors large and small for his friends.
The speakers at the memorial service held Friday night at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston included both Republicans and Democrats. They shared stories that illustrated his love of sailing, fondness for a good joke, tendency to break into song, and advocacy for political causes he supported.
"We just needed someone to hang onto. Teddy was always there to hang onto," Joe Kennedy said.
Speaking nearly three hours later, Vice President Joe Biden said Kennedy became for him a surrogate older brother and tutor during his first years in the Senate. Biden recalled how Kennedy had been a constant source of support during the painful weeks after his wife and young daughter were killed and two young sons critically hurt in a car accident just weeks before Biden was sworn in as a U.S. senator.
"It seemed like every single thing I did he was there," Biden said.
Though there were other somber moments there was more laughter than tears as the ceremony lived up to its billing as a celebration of Kennedy’s life. The scheduled two hour service stretched beyond three hours with speakers relaying often funny stories of their interaction with Kennedy.
The service included songs by the Boston Community Chorus and Brian Mitchell Stokes and a video tribute by Ken Burns and Mark Herzog.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), one of Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate, described Kennedy as a proud liberal but said his own social gifts often turned political opponents into personal friends, and Dodd noted specifically the fact that his Republican colleagues had come to commemorate Kennedy’s life.
"It’s of course great to see his friends Sen. Orrin Hatch and John McCain here this evening. It is to their of course credit that they so often supported Teddy’s efforts. And I say in some jest, it is to Teddy’s great credit that he rarely supported theirs on the other side," Dodd said, in one of several lighter moments during the service.
Kennedy’s personal touch, his work ethic and a talent for legislating, Dodd said, helped Kennedy become one of the greatest senators in history. Noting Kennedy’s famous older brothers, Dodd said, "John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired our America. Robert Kennedy challenged our America. And our Teddy changed America."
Hatch, who later spoke, recalled how Kennedy gave a liberal red meat speech against a bill Hatch had supported, and then afterwards put his arm around his opponent and asked, "How’d I do, Orrin?"
Hatch exacted a type of revenge in recalling a story about finding Kennedy and Dodd off the Senate floor "feeling no pain" and asking him if he would join Hatch is addressing 20 Mormon missionaries in Boston and also reserve the city’s famous Fanueil Hall. Hatch said the next day Kennedy was surprised to learn of his commitment, and asked what else he had agreed to the previous night.
A common theme of the night was that although Kennedy was a member of a famous and rich family he was gracious to everyone.
"In the same instant he was larger than life and completely down to earth," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D).
Longtime friend Paul Kirk called Kennedy "the most thoughtful, genuinely considerate human being I have ever known."
Most of the remembrances were personal, but politics were not completely absent. Joseph Kennedy related a story about sailing meant to illuminate his uncle’s tenacity and competitive spirit. He said it should serve as a call for continuing his uncle’s political legacy.
"If people don’t have adequate health insurance, you stay in the race. If people don’t have adequate housing, you stay in the race. If people aren’t being treated properly, you stay in the race."