Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, oft-summoned to remember departed members of his famous political family, was himself the subject of a eulogy President Barack Obama was delivering at a funeral expected to draw mourners from across the political spectrum and stations of life.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who died Tuesday at age 77 from brain cancer, was being sent off in high fashion Saturday with a Roman Catholic Mass presided over by no fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers.
Tenor Placido Domingo was to sing, accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Joining Obama and nearly 1,500 other invitees at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica were former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as 58 current members of the U.S. Senate, 21 former members and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, once an aide to Kennedy.
White House aides were mum about the eulogy the president would offer, but Obama was expected to focus on the impact Kennedy had on American life since first being elected in 1962.
His 47-year career spanned the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy; the civil rights era and Apollo moon landings; and battles over health, education and immigration; as well as the country’s election of Obama, its first black president, who was born roughly 18 months before Kennedy took office.
Obama was leaving his hotel early Saturday to travel across the street to the Fairmont Copley Plaza, a hotel frequented by the Kennedy family for generations and whose halls on one floor are lined with family pictures. White House aides declined to say if the president was having breakfast with the numerous relatives in town for the funeral.
On Friday, Kennedy was remembered at a bipartisan memorial service whose speakers included Sens. John McCain and John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, JFK’s daughter.
"Now Teddy has become a part of history," Schlossberg said, "and we are the ones who will have to do all the things he would have done, for us, for each other and for our country."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said: "I miss fighting in public and joking with him in the background."
McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, called Kennedy "the best ally you could have," while Kerry promised to deliver the health care overhaul his fellow Massachusetts Democrat so long sought.
"He labored with all his might to make health care a right for all America, and we will do that in his honor," said Kerry, D-Mass., his party’s 2004 presidential nominee.
The invitation-only funeral audience of world leaders and commoners alike evoked the funerals for Kennedy’s brothers. It was at RFK’s rites in 1968 that the senator not only emerged as family patriarch, but also the person to deliver the final word on lives cut short.
He memorialized Robert Kennedy by saying, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
And in 1999, after his nephew John Jr.’s death, the senator declared: "We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years."
Following the service, Kennedy’s body was being flown to Andrews Air Force Base, which also received JFK’s body after his 1963 assassination, before being driven to the U.S. Capitol then along the National Mall and into Arlington Cemetery.
There, as evening falls, he was to be buried on a hillside grave site near his two slain brothers.