News & Politics

US Senator Ted Kennedy Dies at 77

The last of the Kennedy brothers, who dominated US politics for decades, has died of brain cancer, his family said Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Senator Ted Kennedy, a lion of the American left and the last of the brothers who dominated US politics for years, has died of brain cancer, his family said Wednesday. He was 77.

Edward M. Kennedy, known as "Teddy," was a towering, controversial figure whose death late Tuesday night at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, ended an era when his family appeared born to rule.

"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," his family said in a statement.

"We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.

"He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it."

Editor's note:Below is a an excerpt from the New York Times' lengthy obituary of Sen. Kennedy:

Born Feb. 22, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston, Edward Moore Kennedy grew up in a family of shrewd politicians. Both his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and his mother, the former Rose Fitzgerald, came from prominent Irish-Catholic families with long involvement in the hurly-burly of Democratic politics in Boston and Massachusetts. His father, who made a fortune in real estate, movies and banking, served in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and then as ambassador to Britain.

There were nine Kennedy children, four boys and five girls, with Edward the youngest. They grew up talking politics, power and influence because those were the things that preoccupied the mind of Joseph Kennedy. As Rose Kennedy, who took responsibility for the children’s Roman Catholic upbringing, once put it: “My babies were rocked to political lullabies.”

When Edward was born, President Herbert Hoover sent Rose a bouquet of flowers and a note of congratulations. The note came with 5 cents postage due; the framed envelope is a family heirloom.

It was understood among the children that Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the oldest boy, would someday run for Congress and, his father hoped, the White House. When Joseph Jr. was killed in World War II, it fell to the next oldest son, John F., to run. As John said at one point in 1959 while serving in the Senate: “Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, our young brother, Ted, would take over for him.”

Although surrounded by the trappings of wealth — stately houses, servants and expensive cars — young Teddy did not enjoy a settled childhood. He bounced among the family homes in Boston, New York, London and Palm Beach, and by the time Edward was ready to enter college, he had attended 10 preparatory schools in the United States and England, finally finishing at Milton Academy, near Boston. He said that the constant moving had forced him to become more genial with strangers; indeed, he grew to be more of a natural politician than either John or Robert.

After graduating from Milton in 1950, where he showed a penchant for debating and sports but was otherwise an undistinguished student, Mr. Kennedy enrolled in Harvard, as had his father and brothers. It was at Harvard, in his freshman year, that he ran into the first of several personal troubles that were to dog him for the rest of his life: He persuaded another student to take his Spanish examination, got caught and was forced to leave the university.

Suddenly draft-eligible during the Korean War, Mr. Kennedy enlisted in the Army and served two years, securing, with his father’s help, a cushy post at NATO headquarters in Paris. In 1953, he was discharged with the rank of private first class.

Re-enrolling in Harvard, he became a more serious student, majoring in government, excelling in public speaking and playing first-string end on the football team. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, then enrolled in the University of Virginia School of Law, where Robert had studied. There, he won the moot court competition and took a degree in 1959. Later that year, he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.

Mr. Kennedy’s first foray into politics came in 1958, while still a law student, when he managed John’s Senate re-election campaign. There was never any real doubt that Massachusetts voters would return John Kennedy to Washington, but it was a useful internship for his youngest brother.

That same year, Mr. Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett, a debutante from Bronxville, a New York suburb where the Kennedys had once lived. In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president, Edward was assigned a relatively minor role, rustling up votes in Western states that usually voted Republican. He was so enthusiastic about his task that he rode a bronco at a Montana rodeo and daringly took a ski jump at a winter sports tournament in Wisconsin to impress a crowd. The episodes were evidence of a reckless streak that repeatedly threatened his life and career.

John Kennedy’s election to the White House left vacant a Senate seat that the family considered its property. Robert Kennedy was next in line, but chose the post of attorney general instead (an act of nepotism that has since been outlawed). Edward was only 28, two years shy of the minimum age for Senate service.

So the Kennedys installed Benjamin A. Smith 2d, a family friend, as a seat-warmer until 1962, when a special election would be held and Edward would have turned 30. Edward used the time to travel the world and work as an assistant district attorney in Boston, waiving the $5,000 salary and serving instead for $1 a year.

As James Sterling Young, the director of a Kennedy Oral History Project at the University of Virginia, put it: “Most people grow up and go into politics. The Kennedys go into politics and then they grow up.”

Less than a month after turning 30 in 1962, Mr. Kennedy declared his candidacy for the remaining two years of his brother’s Senate term. He entered the race with a tailwind of family money and political prominence. Nevertheless, Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state’s attorney general and a nephew of John W. McCormack, then speaker of the United States House of Representatives, also decided to go after the seat.

It was a bitter fight, with a public rehash of the Harvard cheating episode and with Mr. McCormack charging in a televised “Teddy-Eddie” debate that Mr. Kennedy lacked maturity of judgment because he had “never worked for a living” and had never held elective office. “If your name was simply Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy,” Mr. McCormack added, “your candidacy would be a joke.”

But the Kennedys had ushered in an era of celebrity politics, which trumped qualifications in this case. Mr. Kennedy won the primary by a two-to-one ratio, then went on to easy victory in November against the Republican candidate, George Cabot Lodge, a member of an old-line Boston family that had clashed politically with the Kennedys through the years.

When Mr. Kennedy entered the Senate in 1962, he was aware that he might be seen as an upstart, with one brother in the White House and another in the cabinet. He sought guidance on the very first day from one of the Senate’s most respected elders, Richard Russell of Georgia. “You go further if you go slow,” Senator Russell advised.

Read the rest of the NYT's obituary here