Kennedy to be buried near brothers at Arlington

 

President Barack Obama has led tributes from across the political spectrum and across the world to Senator Edward Kennedy following his death at the age of 77. The senator, a leading member of one of America's most fabled political families, had been suffering from brain cancer. His death was announced in a family statement today and it was confirmed this evening that he is to be laid to rest near his brothers, President John F Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy.

"Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port [Massachusetts]," the statement saId.

One of the most influential and longest-serving senators in US history - a liberal standard-bearer who was also known as a consummate congressional dealmaker - the Irish-American senator had been battling brain cancer, which was diagnosed in May 2008.

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," the family statement said.

"He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it's hard to imagine any of them without him," the family added.

The President Mary McAleese and the Taoiseach Brian Cowen led the Irish tributes to Mr Kennedy.

Mrs McAleese said he would be remembered by the people in Ireland as a "hugely important friend to the country during very difficult times" while the Taoiseach said that America had lost a great and respected statesman and Ireland, a long-standing and true friend.

A book of condolence is to be opened in honour of the late senator at the US Embassy in Dublin. People will be able to pay their respects from tomorrow at the Embassy, where Ambassador to Ireland Daniel M Rooney will open the tributes.

Mr Rooney said the senator played a crucial role in Northern Ireland’s peace process. “Senator Kennedy was not only a great American statesmen, but also a great friend of mine and all the island of Ireland and its people,” he said.

In May 2008, Mr Kennedy collapsed at his Cape Cod home and was flown to hospital in Boston, where he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. His illness kept him from attending the funeral of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a leading advocate of the mentally disabled, who died on August 11th at the age of 88.

His death marked the twilight of a political dynasty and dealt a blow to Democrats as they seek to answer President Barack Obama's call for an overhaul of the health care system. Mr Kennedy had made health care reform his signature cause.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said in a statement the Kennedy family and Senate "have together lost our patriarch."

"As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life."

Known as "Teddy," he was the brother of President John Kennedy, assassinated in 1963; Senator Robert Kennedy, fatally shot while campaigning for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination; and Joe Kennedy, a pilot killed in the second World War.

When he first took the Senate seat previously held by John Kennedy in 1962, he was seen as something of a political lightweight who owed his ascent to his famous name. Yet during his nearly half century in the chamber, Mr Kennedy became known as one of Washington's most effective senators, crafting legislation by working with lawmakers and presidents of both parties, and finding unlikely allies.

At the same time, he held fast to liberal causes deemed anachronistic by the centrist "New Democrats," and was a lightning rod for conservative ire. He helped enact measures to protect civil and labour rights, expand health care, upgrade schools, increase student aid and contain the spread of nuclear weapons.

"There's a lot to do," Mr Kennedy told Reuters in 2006. "I think most of all it's the injustice that I continue to see and the opportunity to have some impact on it."

After Robert Kennedy's death, his brother was expected to waste little time in vying for the presidency. But in 1969, a young woman drowned after a car Kennedy was driving plunged off a bridge on the Massachusetts resort island of Chappaquiddick after a night of partying.

The senator's image took a major battering after it emerged he had failed to report the accident to authorities. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and received a suspended sentence.

Mr Kennedy eventually ran for his party's presidential nomination in 1980 but lost to then-President Jimmy Carter. His presidential ambitions thwarted, Kennedy devoted himself to his Senate career.

A 2009 survey by The Hill, a Capitol Hill publication, found that Senate Republicans believed Kennedy was the chamber's easiest Democrat to work with and most bipartisan.

Republican Senator John McCain called him "the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results."

In January 2008, Kennedy endorsed Mr Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many saw the endorsement - Mr Obama went on to win the nomination and the White House - as the passing of the political torch to a new generation.

Mr Kennedy had been largely sidelined in Congress since becoming ill. The "Lion of the Senate" began to use a cane and often looked tired and drained as he mixed work with treatment. Yet colleagues and staff said he remained determined to fulfill what he called "the cause of my life," providing health insurance to all Americans. He helped draft legislation to overhaul the $2.5 trillion US health care system.

Mr Kennedy's interest in health care dated from his son's bout with cancer in the 1970s. More recently, he cited his own illness as he made a case for reform.

His charisma as "the last of the Kennedy brothers" was such that draft-Teddy drives were a feature of US presidential election years from 1968 through the 1980s.

But he never fully escaped the cloud of the Chappaquiddick accident. A decades-long argument arose about whether he tried to cover up his involvement by leaving the scene while Mary Jo Kopechne's body remained submerged and whether police helped sweep such questions under the rug. All involved denied any cover-up.

Later crises involving younger Kennedys, notably the 1991 Palm Beach rape trial of his nephew, William Kennedy Smith, caught a bloated and weary-looking Uncle Ted in a media glare. Reports of heavy drinking and womanising led to a public apology "for the faults in the conduct of my private life."

Mr Kennedy was remarried soon after that to Victoria Reggie, a 38-year-old lawyer with two young children from her first marriage. He poured renewed energy into the Senate, where he would become the third-longest serving senator in history.

Even his Republican foes recognised his dedication, however, as he worked to protect civil rights, give federal help to the poor, contain the spread of nuclear weapons, raise the minimum wage, expand health coverage and improve America's schools.

Born on February 22nd, 1932, Edward Moore Kennedy was the last of four sons and five daughters born to millionaire businessman Joseph Kennedy, who would later be ambassador to Britain, and his wife Rose.

The Boston Irish family combined the competitive spirit of nouveau riche immigrants with acquired polish and natural charm. The sons were expected to mature into presidential timber and were groomed for that starting with the oldest, Joseph Jr, a bomber pilot who died in World War Two.

"I think about my brothers every day," Mr Kennedy once told Reuters. "They set high standards. Sometimes you measure up, sometimes you don't." Like his brothers, Mr Kennedy was known for his oratory, delivered in a booming voice at rallies, congressional hearings and in the Senate.

He drew praise from liberals, labour and civil rights groups and scorn from conservatives, big business and anti-abortion and pro-gun activists. His image was often used by Republicans in ads as a money-raising tool.

Tragedies dogged Mr Kennedy throughout his life. They included a 1964 plane crash that damaged his spine and left him with persistent pain; bone cancer that cost son Teddy a leg; first wife Joan's battles with alcoholism that contributed to their divorce, and drug problems involving nephews, one of whom died of an overdose. His nephew, John Kennedy Jr., died in July 1999 when his small plane crashed into the ocean near Cape Cod.

Reuters