PRESIDENT Barack Obama yesterday led the tributes to his mentor, Senator Edward Kennedy, as he was joined by three former US presidents and a worldwide TV audience at the funeral for the "greatest legislator of our time".
Thousands lined the streets in the pouring rain yesterday morning as the formal cortege escorted Kennedy's body to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston.
Kennedy died last week at the age of 77 from brain cancer, and his passing brought out politicians from all sides of the spectrum.
Three buses carried the massive extended Kennedy clan to the church as they filed in, watched by Obama and former Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. Northern Irish republican politicians Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness attended the mass, as did Gordon Brown's wife Sarah.
In his eulogy to the basilica packed with 1,500 mourners, Obama said Kennedy was the "greatest legislator of our time" and a "veritable force of nature" for healthcare, civil rights and workers' rights.
Obama called the senator "the soul of the Democratic Party" and said the US may have viewed him as "heir to a weighty legacy", but he was playfully known by the youngest Kennedys less grandly: as the big cheese, "The Grand Fromage".
"Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion the causes of those with wealth or power or special connections," Obama said. "It was to give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding."
Obama called Kennedy "the lion of the United States Senate" and said that "though it is Teddy's historic body of achievements that we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss".
There was a standing ovation after Obama spoke, as there was after the words of Kennedy's sons, Ted Kennedy Jr and Patrick Kennedy, who paid an emotional tribute.
Ted Kennedy Jr said of his father: "He was an Irishman and a proud member of the Democratic party." He told a story from shortly after he lost a leg to cancer at the age of 12, when his father helped him up a snow-covered hill with an arm around his waist and words of encouragement. "There's nothing you can't do," he said his father told him. Choking back tears, Kennedy Jr said: "My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable."
Earlier, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played and opera star Placido Domingo sang at the funeral at the Roman Catholic basilica in a working-class area of Boston.
"We welcome the body of our friend," said a priest as the coffin entered the church.
Mourners packed the white and gold interior of the church beneath soaring arches and stained glass. Hours before he gave the eulogy, Obama met privately for about 10 minutes with Victoria Kennedy, the senator's wife. Seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers took part.
Kennedy's flag-draped coffin – carried by eight servicemen – was wrapped tightly in plastic to guard against the rain as it was removed from his brother John F Kennedy's presidential library and put into a hearse for the drive to the church.
His wife Victoria closed her eyes slowly and appeared to choke back tears as she watched from under the cover of an umbrella.
The military honour guard, which had stood by Kennedy's coffin while he lay in repose at the library, carried it up the church's steps.
Clint Haymon, one of hundreds of mourners gathered outside the church, said: "Where would I be as a black man without the Kennedys? They believe in civil rights and that's why I am here to honour this great man."
"We had to come here. He committed a lot of his time to causes we believe in," said Douglas Geer, 43, of Walpole, Massachusetts, the father of an autistic child. "Our child benefited from his work."
Kennedy's coffin was being flown to Washington after the funeral and taken to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried close to his brothers, John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
ROBERT KENNEDY, 1925-1968
PERSONALITY: Said to be the least poised, articulate and extroverted of the three, Bobby Kennedy worked hard to toughen himself up for the world of politics. This he did so successfully. He won a reputation for ruthlessness, which he revelled in, saying: "If I find out who is calling me ruthless, I will destroy him." A complex character, he could be curt and arrogant, and yet he inspired great loyalty in others.
His greatest asset as JFK's attorney general was that he was a doer, with the organisational skills to drive through policies.
IMPACT: Publicly his brother Jack may have held the reins of power, but – as attorney general – Bobby was his closest adviser and a force to be reckoned with. It was he who persuaded JFK to pursue the blockade option during the Cuban missile crisis, for example. Having served briefly on Joe McCarthy's anti-communist committee, he continued to demonstrate an aptitude for crusades throughout his life.
During his brother's presidency, he was relentless in his pursuit of the Mafia – convictions against organised crime rose 800 per cent – but this infuriated gangsters such as Sam Giancana who felt they had bought the Kennedys' loyalty by supporting Jack's campaign and resented the way his administration simultaneously exploited their power and tried to curtail it.
Bobby's hounding of corrupt union officials – and in particular the Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa – also caused a stir, with TV footage of the two powerful figures clashing at hearings becoming iconic images.
Further radicalised by JFK's death, Bobby was a central figure in the civil rights movement. Having already tackled discrimination on Capitol Hill, he spoke out in support of the new anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and continued his commitment to racial equality into his own presidential campaign in 1968. After his brother's death, Bobby became a vociferous opponent of the war in Vietnam.
SCANDALS/CONTROVERSIES: When Bobby was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, it emerged he had sanctioned the wiretapping of Martin Luther King. Documents declassified by the CIA in 2007, suggest he personally authorised at least one assassination attempt on Castro.
In addition, there were posthumous rumours that he too might have had a liaison with Marilyn Monroe, with some suggesting he was at the actress's home on the day of her death.
DEATH: Bobby was shot on 5 June, 1968 – hours after winning the Californian Primary – as he took a shortcut through the kitchen from the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and died later in hospital. Just as with JFK, his assassination was blamed on a lone gunman, Sirhan Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian American, but with the autopsy showing the bullets were fired from the rear (at an angle with effectively ruled Sirhan out), his death too has spawned numerous conspiracy theories.
EDWARD KENNEDY, 1932-2009
PERSONALITY: A huge figure in every sense of the world, Ted's character was, if anything, even more contradictory than his brothers. He was a man of great faith and yet, equally, a man plagued by demons, who seemed to see himself as exempt from normal moral codes.
His cowardice was exposed in 1969, when – after attending a party at Chappaquiddick island off Martha's Vineyard – he crashed his car off the bridge. He fled the scene, leaving his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to Bobby, to die. It took him ten hours to report the accident, leading to speculation he had been under the influence. Although he was sentenced to just two years' probation, the case dominated the news agenda for months and his life forever.
IMPACT: After Bobby's death it was assumed Edward would follow in his brothers' footsteps, but Chappaquiddick scuppered his chances of becoming president.
Although he did try to snatch the Democratic nomination from President Jimmy Carter in 1980, his campaign was so lacklustre many doubted he truly wanted it. Instead, he found his true vocation – and some would say his redemption – in the Senate, where he became the voice of liberalism for the next 30 years.
In that time, he put his stamp on almost every piece of legislation involving improving pay and conditions for society's poorest, healthcare, education and the environment.
One of his greatest strengths was his ability to forge alliances across party lines. He campaigned for the election of Barack Obama, delivering a passionate speech at the Democratic Party convention. With the US fiercely divided over the issue, it remains to be seen whether his lifelong ambition – the realisation of universal health care – will become a reality.
SCANDALS/CONTROVERSIES: Doubts over Ted's moral character were kindled as far back as 1951 when he was forced to leave Harvard after being caught cheating in an exam.
In the post-Chappaquiddick years, his volatile marriage to Joan, an alcoholic, and his own excessive behaviour did nothing to rehabilitate his image.
But when – during his nephew William Kennedy Smith's trial in 1991 for rape – he was again hit by allegations of heavy drinking and womanising, it was to prove a watershed moment. He apologised for his lifestyle, married divorced lawyer Victoria Reggie and attempted to turn his life around.
DEATH: When senators were told of Edward Kennedy's brain tumour in May, many were visibly shaken. His death last week leaves Jean as the only surviving member of the nine children born to Joe and Rose. And although several members of the extended Kennedy clan – including JFK's daughter Caroline – are still involved in politics, none of them is likely to have anything like the impact the previous generation had on the nation. With no one in a position to take on the Kennedy torch, it seems the flame that lit America for 60 years may finally be extinguished.
JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY, 1917-1963
PERSONALITY: Possessed of an easy, relaxed charm, JFK – or Jack – had an instinctive way with people. His innate talent for television was demonstrated most memorably in the famous TV debate with Richard Nixon (he came across as relaxed and affable, while Nixon seemed tense).
Of all the brothers, he is perhaps the one who most encapsulated the Kennedy spirit: a commitment to public service combined with a giddy hedonism. But it was precisely this mix: the passion for social justice set against a backdrop of glamour and celebrity which seemed to appeal to the public and which gave birth to the vision of Camelot.
John's great personal weakness was his voracious sexual appetite. Although the extent of his promiscuity was not known until after his death.
IMPACT: Not originally seen as a champion of civil rights – he opposed Eisenhower's 1957 Civil Rights Bill – JFK was nevertheless won over to the cause. Whether this was born out of a genuine desire to overcome discrimination or because he needed to win the black vote remains open to debate.
Certainly, he used his power to enforce already passed legislation, sending federal agents out to force the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama to allow black students through their doors. He also paved the way for the Civil Rights Act 1964.
Equally contentious is JFK's role in Vietnam. During his presidency, he increased the number of US military in the region from 800 to 16,300 and sanctioned the overthrow of south Vietnam leader Ngo Dinh Diem, but in the final weeks of his life, he seemed to be wrestling with the issue of the US's commitment to the country.
JFK averted nuclear war after the Soviets placed missiles on Cuba, by opting for a blockade rather than a military strike. When Kruschev removed the missiles, JFK orchestrated the signing of a treaty to end nuclear tests in the earth's atmosphere.
Overall, JFK came to represent America's hope for a better future.
SCANDALS/CONTROVERSIES: The Bay of Pigs debacle cast a cloud over Kennedy's presidency. On 17 April, 1961, a group of Cuban exiles – trained and armed by the CIA – invaded the island in an attempt to overthrow Castro. They were defeated in just three days after JFK told the CIA he wanted to scale down the number of ships and aircraft being used in the operation. Only seven of the 1,300-strong force made it back to the US, the rest being captured or killed.
JFK is also said to have had a series of politically reckless sexual relationships with women including Marilyn Monroe, East German prostitute Ellen Rometsch and Judith Exner, a woman he apparently shared with mobster Sam Giancana. Although he used his influence to keep his indiscretions quiet, posthumous revelations blighted his image and gave rise to conspiracy theories over Monroe's death.
DEATH: JFK was assassinated as he rode through the streets of Dallas, Texas in a motorcade on 22 November, 1963.