Ted Kennedy: A life of service

With the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), this nation lost a great patriot, a force for justice and equality and a passionate voice for a brighter future.

Sen. Kennedy was the beloved patriarch of a beautiful family. At this moment of mourning, our thoughts and prayers are with his loving, caring and devoted wife, Vicki; and with his children, Kara, Teddy Jr. and our colleague Patrick. Surely it was a highlight for both father and son to see the Kennedy-Kennedy Mental Health Parity bill become law last year — ending discriminatory treatment toward mental health coverage — and a true tribute to the Kennedy family’s unyielding commitment to the common good.

Above all else, Sen. Kennedy was a champion — of the poor and the oppressed, of the forgotten and the voiceless, of young and old. Over a lifetime of leadership, Sen. Kennedy’s statesmanship, passionate arguments and political prowess produced a wealth of accomplishment that expanded opportunity for every American and extended the blessings of prosperity to millions of his fellow citizens.

He had a grand vision for America and an unparalleled ability to effect change and inspire others to devote themselves to that change. And no one did more to educate our children, care for our seniors and ensure equality for all Americans.

The reach of Sen. Kennedy’s achievements extends far beyond any one state, issue or group. And the light of his example shone bright across lines of party or philosophy. Because of his work, countless students can afford to reach for a college diploma.

Because he returned to the Senate floor for one day last July, once-fierce opponents of Medicare understood their responsibility not to politics, but to the people they serve — and today, America’s seniors have a stronger and more enduring safety net to keep them healthy.

Because he believed in the need for bold action to rescue our economy, from his hospital bed he played a pivotal role in ensuring the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, putting people back to work and setting our nation on the road to recovery. And because of his stirring words of optimism, vitality and courage at the Democratic convention exactly one year before he passed away, he laid a foundation for the election of a president who shared his ideals and intellect — and personified his vision of an America where race was no longer a barrier or qualification.

Sen. Kennedy’s deep faith remained a palpable force in his life. It inspired his belief in social justice. It demanded action on behalf of the least among us. It sustained him, and offered a refuge from the spotlight of elected office. When his daughter, Kara, was diagnosed with lung cancer, Sen. Kennedy turned to his faith for solace, going to Mass each morning in the same house of worship where his funeral service will be conducted — a basilica that became a source of hope and optimism for him in recent years.

Throughout his career, Ted Kennedy spoke of a new hope; of holding fast to our ideals and fulfilling the promise of our country. He carried on the legacy of an extraordinary family — a family defined by service and a family that inspired an entire generation, including myself, to take action and to serve a cause greater than our individual interests. And with the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act now the law of the land, another generation of teachers and volunteers, students and community organizers will put those values into action.

Perhaps more than any other issue, Sen. Kennedy never stopped fighting for what he called “the cause of my life” — ensuring quality, affordable healthcare for every American. He believed it was a moral imperative. He viewed it “as a fundamental right, not a privilege.” It is a tribute to him — but really to the Americans for whom he fought every day — that this dream will become reality this year.