President Obama’s Eulogy for Senator Edward Kennedy

President Obama’s Eulogy for Senator Edward Kennedy


The President:
Your Eminence, Vicki, 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
United States Senate — a man who graces
nearly 1,000 laws, and who penned more
than 300 laws 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. Grandfather. Uncle Teddy, or as he was often
known to his younger nieces and nephews, “The Grand Fromage,”
or “The Big Cheese.” (laughter) 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, as 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.” That spirit of resilience and
good humor would see Teddy through more pain and tragedy
than most of us will ever know. He lost two siblings
by the age of 16. He saw two more taken violently
from a country that loved them. He said goodbye to his
beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his 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’s a string of events that
would have broken a lesser man. And it would have been easy for
Ted 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 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 the
suffering of others — the sick child who
could not see a doctor; the young soldier 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 insurance, the Family and
Medical Leave Act — all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy’s life work was not
to champion the causes of 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, as has been noted,
while his causes became deeply personal, his
disagreements never did. While he was seen by his
fiercest critics as a partisan lightning rod, that’s not the
prism through which Ted Kennedy saw the world, nor was it
the prism through which his colleagues saw Ted Kennedy. He was a product of an age when
the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party
and platform 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, yes, 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 for support of 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; 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. (laughter) When they weren’t,
he’d pull it back. (laughter) Before long, the deal was done. (laughter) 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 of a certain piece of
legislation that was coming up for vote. I gave my pledge, but I expressed skepticism that it would pass. But when the roll call was over,
the bill garnered the votes that it needed, and then some. I looked at Teddy with
astonishment and asked how had he done it. He just patted me on the back
and said, “Luck of the Irish.” (laughter) Of course, luck had little to do
with Ted Kennedy’s legislative success; 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?” (laughter) But though it is Teddy’s
historic body of achievements that we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss. It was the friend and the
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 so adored
by his staff that over 500, 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 of such stature would take the time to think about somebody like them. I have one of those paintings
in my private study off the Oval Office — a Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who had just arrived in Washington and happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy
welcomed him into his office. That, by the way, is my second
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 not only after 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 been 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,
especially because 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 to risk his heart again. And 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, hardest days. 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 what
God’s plan is for us. What we can do is to live out
our lives as best we can with purpose, and with
love, and with 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
know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that
our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on
the lives of others. This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy. He once said, as has
already been mentioned, of his brother Bobby that
he need not be idealized or enlarged in death because
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 that 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
following: “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
ones 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 that
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 that 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 whatever
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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *