Michael Kennedy was mourned Saturday by his famous family as a loving father and a force for public good.
“A whole nation knows his name, but few know the best of what he did,” U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II said. “Michael was one man, but he was 100 points of light.”
Mourners arriving for the funeral of the sixth of 11 children born to the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy were given cards with Michael’s picture. It included the text of an Irish ballad that lamented “Oh! why did you leave us Michael, why did you die?”
Kennedy, 39, was killed New Year’s Eve in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colo.
His voice trembling, Joseph Kennedy eulogized his younger brother as a devoted family man and a humanitarian whose work helping the poor carried on the legacy laid down by their father, slain New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“Every one of his brothers and sisters, his mother and all our family, turned to him again and again,” Kennedy said of his brother. “And he turned, heart and soul, to the task our father set, which has inspired each of us and people everywhere - to make more gentle the life of (the) world.”
The congressman praised Michael’s professional and charitable achievements, while lamenting the criticism his brother endured last year after allegations surfaced of his alleged affair with a teenage baby-sitter.
“I ask now only that we look at Michael not in the glare of a moment but in the wholeness of his life,” Kennedy told a crowd of mourners. “It was a life cut short, a life not without pain and imperfection but full of hope and high achievement.”
Joseph Kennedy, who remained close to Michael after withdrawing from the Massachusetts governor’s race this year, was among pallbearers who carried the casket, covered in white roses and lilies, up the church steps. All of Michael Kennedy’s surviving brothers and sisters, along with friends and relatives, packed the oak pews of Our Lady of Victory Church. His estranged wife, Victoria Gifford Kennedy, accompanied Ethel Kennedy into the church.
Michael’s oldest sister, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, read from the book of Isaiah. His brother Maxwell and his sister Rory, who tried to revive him on the mountain after he struck a tree, also read from the Bible.
During the eulogy, Joseph Kennedy addressed Michael’s three children, telling them to remember their father through prayer.
“To little Michael, to Kyle and Rory, you can still talk to your father,” he said.
Talk-show host Kathie Lee Gifford helped escort Kyle, 13, and Rory, 10, granddaughters of her husband, sportscaster Frank Gifford. Fourteen-year-old Michael Jr. was a pallbearer.
During the funeral, the casket was covered with a pall spread by Michael’s cousins, including John F. Kennedy Jr. There also were several books, a photo of Michael and a crucifix on the coffin.
The Mass opened with family friend Andy Williams singing “Ave Maria.”
Letters from President Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King were read aloud.
A choir from the 12th Baptist Church in Boston sang the gospel hymn “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”
During the private service, Michael Kennedy was praised for accomplishments on behalf of others.
He was campaign manager in his uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s tough 1994 re-election campaign for the Senate against Mitt Romney, son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney.
He also was active in charity efforts in Massachusetts and Africa. He worked to get American companies to invest in Angola and South Africa, and gave seed money to open a Catholic university in Angola, which has said it will name a new library after him.
At the end of the service, a long funeral cortege drove from Cape Cod to Brookline for Kennedy’s burial at Holyhood Cemetery, where his brother, David, who died of a drug overdose, and his grandparents, Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy, are buried.
Phil Papineau, of New York, watched the family and guests arrive at the church.
“Whether people agree or disagree with their politics, it’s a family that’s been important to our country and been intertwined with all of our lives,” he said. “I just wanted to see the Kennedys and in a small measure pay my respect.”