BOSTON – Family members and friends, political allies and ideological rivals joined together Friday night to pay tribute to the long life and outsized personality of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a small, private memorial service filled with song, laughter and tears.
One of the most emotional moments came when former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, the late senator’s nephew, spoke in highly personal terms about how his uncle helped him and his siblings after their father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968 while running for president.
“Every single one of my brothers and sisters needed a father, and we gained one through Uncle Teddy,” Joseph Kennedy said. “We just needed someone to hang on to, and Uncle Teddy was always there to hang on to.”
Speaking directly to Edward Kennedy’s children – Kara, Patrick and Edward Jr. – he said, “You had to share, so we just want to say, ‘Thank you.’ ”
More than three hours later, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Kennedy’s niece, recounted family trips to historical sites. “He was passing down his belief that each of us has a chance to change the course of history,” she said.
The evening service, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, came after members of the public paid their respects. Young and old, people of every color, race and ethnic background – a reflection of the tapestry of modern America that Kennedy touched during his half-century in public life – came. Kennedy died Tuesday after a 15-month battle with brain cancer.
Boston police said about 50,000 people came for the two days of public viewing.
The evening event was an intimate affair attended by Kennedy’s extended family, longtime friends, several of his Senate colleagues and Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden moved the crowd when he spoke of how Kennedy comforted him after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, how he persuaded Biden to remain in the Senate, and how he later instructed Biden on the ways of the Senate and the etiquette of Washington dinner parties.
“I wouldn’t be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy,” Biden said. “His death was not unlike his life – overcoming pain and loss with a sense of dignity and pride that is amazing.”