Tens of Thousands Pay Tribute to Ted Kennedy

Published August 28, 2009

BOSTON (AP) -- Tens of thousands of people are paying tribute today to Sen. Edward Kennedy, who lay in repose for a second day in a flag-draped casket at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Members of the Kennedy family, including his daughter Kara Kennedy Allen, nephew Tim Shriver and 81-year-old Jean Kennedy Smith, the senator's sister and the last surviving Kennedy sibling, greeted visitors.

Smith, the former U.S. ambassador to Ireland, choked back tears. "This is a hard time for me," she said when asked to talk about her brother. She was joined briefly by her son, William Kennedy Smith.

"It's a wonderful tribute to Teddy and the lives that he touched," he said of the line of thousands.

A five-person military honor guard stood at attention around the casket in a high-ceilinged room with a spectacular view of Boston Harbor.

Large photos of Kennedy with his family greeted mourners on their way into the room, including one of Kennedy as a boy with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and a 1960s-era shot of Kennedy with his slain brothers, John and Robert.

The library was supposed to close at 11 p.m. Thursday, but the doors were left open until 2 a.m. Friday as 21,000 people paid their respects. Visitors resumed before 8 a.m. Friday and was to continue until 3 p.m., at which point the viewing was to end to make preparations for a collection of big political names converging for a private "Celebration of Life" service Friday night.

Scheduled speakers include Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Christopher Dodd; and niece Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy. Performances will include "God Bless America" and Kennedy's favorite song, "The Impossible Dream."

Among visitors Friday morning was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said Kennedy helped change the country through his work for minorities, the disabled and the poor.

"As a rich person, no one reached back further for the poor or exalted them higher," Jackson said.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a longtime civil rights leader, noted Kennedy's substantial influence on the movement.

"He's one man that changed America forever," Lewis said. "He made America a better place. ... Sen. Kennedy was our champion. He was our leader. He was our shepherd."

Visitors represented a cross-section of race and class, and many of them said they had benefited directly from Kennedy's 47 years of work in the Senate.

Fred Foster, 51, of Boston's Brighton neighborhood, said he was helped by Kennedy's work on COBRA, the federal program that allows people to retain their former company's health benefits under some circumstances.

"A few years ago I was laid off and I continued to have my health insurance because of COBRA, and that's a direct result of what Sen. Kennedy did," Foster said.

George Thomas, a member of Connecticut's Pequot tribe, arrived Friday wearing an otter turban and said he brought prayers and condolences for Kennedy's family from 40 tribes across the Northeast and Southwest.

If a tribe had a dispute over land or water rights, "a simple call to his office would resolve it," Thomas said.

As she waited in line, retired nurse Frances Murphy Araujo, 66, recalled piling into an old Chevy with six college friends and driving all night to go to John F. Kennedy's funeral in 1963.

"There's a real admiration and affection for the Kennedys in my family," she said.

"Ted Kennedy rolled up his sleeves and got the work done," she added. "He was very down to earth. You felt like you could approach him."

A funeral Mass is scheduled for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston on Saturday. President Barack Obama is expected to deliver the eulogy.

All the living former presidents are expected to attend except for George H.W. Bush. Spokesman Jim McGrath said Friday that the 85-year-old Bush feels his son's presence will "amply and well represent" the family.

Kennedy's body was delivered to the library Thursday by a motorcade of family members and friends who had celebrated a private Mass at the family compound in Hyannis Port, 70 miles away, where Kennedy spent his final days.

Kennedy will be buried Saturday evening near his brothers at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.

Written by Associated Press

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