In death as in life, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on Friday brought together political rivals – this time to celebrate his life and half-century of service to his country.
A who's who of politics gathered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston for the private service.
Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona called Kennedy “the best ally you could have” when they agreed on issues. Sen. Orrin Hatch, another GOP colleague, said he'd fought like a brother with Kennedy, a Democrat, for 33 years and “loved every minute of it.”
The speakers, many of whom worked for years with Kennedy in the Senate, shared stories of his congeniality and knack for compromise as they recalled his congressional successes and the ones he had yet to achieve when he died Tuesday night of a brain tumor at age 77, most notably the struggle for a health care overhaul.
His closest friend in the Senate, Chris Dodd, noted the friendships he made across the aisle, and singled out Hatch and McCain.
“It is to their great credit that they so often supported Teddy's efforts. And, I say in some jest, it is to Teddy's great credit that he so rarely supported theirs,” Dodd, D-Conn., said to an eruption of laughter.
McCain called Kennedy the most reliable, prepared and persistent of his colleagues.
The “Celebration of Life,” contrasted with the solemnity of the motorcade that carried Kennedy's body from Cape Cod to Boston a day earlier and the sobriety of the public viewing, where an estimated 50,000 people filed past the senator's flag-draped coffin at the presidential library named for one of his slain brothers.
Kennedy's nephew and former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, called on people there to dedicate themselves to causes his uncle had championed.
Other speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. John Kerry and niece Caroline Kennedy.
In a tender family moment, Joe Kennedy thanked his cousins – Kennedy's children – for sharing him with so many, particularly after the assassinations of Kennedy's brothers.
“Every single one of my brothers and sisters needed a father, and we gained one through Uncle Teddy. Caroline and John were no different,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that for so many of us, we just needed someone to hang onto, and Teddy was always there to hang onto. He had such a big heart, and he shared that heart with all of us.”