By J. Taylor Rushing - 08/29/09 01:49 PM EDT
The 77-year-old senator who died Tuesday after a 15-month-long battle with brain cancer received a two-and-a-half-hour service at Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston. After the service, his body was flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. From there it was to be driven to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. More than 50,000 people had visited his body as it laid in repose at the JFK Presidential Library since Thursday afternoon, and hundreds more gathered on the route to its final resting place.
"He said, ‘We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day,’" Ted Kennedy recalled. "My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event — that is one of my father’s greatest lessons."
Kennedy’s son said the senator remained most proud of his respect among Senate Republicans, citing a survey conducted by The Hill this spring that found Kennedy to be the Democrat with whom Republicans most enjoyed working with on legislation.
Saturday’s service was set in a massive church with stained-glass windows cracked open and fans humming to stave off the summer heat. Secret Service bodyguards with earpieces lining the walls, reflecting the prominence of the audience in attendance that included three for the four former presidents still living.
Kennedy’s wife, Victoria, sat in a front pew near the senator’s children Edward, Patrick and Kara and his first wife Joan Bennett. Across the aisle sat President Obama, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonChelsea Clinton to stay on family foundation board Scarborough calls Clinton camp defense of foundation 'pathetic' Five things to know about the Clinton Foundation and its donors MORE, Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAetna's extortion boosts urgency for ObamaCare public option Cruz spokesman hits Trump on immigration: It's now the 'Gang of 9' bill Trump aide on immigration plan: No amnesty, no sanctuary cities MORE and former President George W. Bush. President Carter, who won a bitter presidential primary fight with Edward Kennedy in 1980, also attended.
The only living former president who was absent was Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush. Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden expects Gitmo will close before Obama leaves office Biden seeks to reassure Turkey over alleged coup plotter US, Turkey launch offensive in northern Syria against ISIS MORE and former vice presidents Al GoreAl GoreJill Stein helps Trump as Ralph Nader helped Bush The Trail 2016: Focus on the Foundation Gore: Climate voters should stick with Dems MORE and Dan Quayle also attended.
The service was at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston, where Kennedy prayed for his daughter Kara as she was battling lung cancer in 2003.
The service also included several musical performances, which Ted Kennedy Jr. said his father would have appreciated given his love of music.Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and opera singer Placido Domingo both performed.
Other notable attendees included from Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and former Gov. Michael Dukakis (D). Illustrating that Kennedy’s relationships extended across the aisle, Republicans such as Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP lawmakers call for overhaul of proposed corporate tax rules DEA decision against reclassifying marijuana ignores public opinion Trump op-ed counters Clinton’s pitch to Utah voters MORE of Utah, 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCainJohn McCainGeneral calls McCain's Bergdahl comments 'inappropriate' Clinton enjoying edge over Trump in Silicon Valley Five takeaways from Clinton, Trump finance reports MORE of Arizona, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellBarack Obama is the founder of Donald Trump Giffords-backed gun control group endorses Toomey, Kirk Republicans say party can’t afford to cut ties to Trump MORE of Kentucky also came to pay their respects to their former colleague.
Other attendees included broadcaster Tom Brokaw, John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen, and historians David McCullough and Michael Beschloss. Celebrities Jack Nicholson, Tony Bennett and Lauren Bacall, civil rights activists Jesse Jackson Sr. and Martin Luther King III, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who once worked for Kennedy, also attended the service.
Obama delivered the eulogy — a 15-minute address that quoted William Wordsworth, illustrated Kennedy’s sense of humor, and praised the senator’s "historic body of achievements."
"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," Obama said.
"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.
"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."
The service ended with a choral rendition of "America The Beautiful."