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Mourners Prepare to Bid Kennedy a Final Farewell

August 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Kwame Holman reports on the scene in Boston, where mourners braved long lines to bid a final farewell to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
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And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: changing the face of the nation; looking abroad for health care solutions; and Shields and Brooks.

That follows the day of farewells for Senator Edward Kennedy.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has the story.

KWAME HOLMAN: By this evening, tens of thousands had filed past the flag-draped casket of Senator Edward Kennedy at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Many stopped to pray. Some offered a salute. Others simply paused. Hundreds were waiting when the library’s doors opened this morning.

MAN: Oh, we got here around 10 minutes to 5:00.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some of the mourners talked about personal connections to the senator.

LISA PUCCIA: He was a — a great man. He did a lot of great things for a lot of great people, especially my family.

MAN: What did he do for your family?

LISA PUCCIA: My daughter is autistic. And — oh, God. And he helped us out with certain issues. And — and he is a great man.

BARBARA COCHRAN: Oh, my God. It’s just like — like I lost my father. I think the world of him. I worked for him when I was in high school and got the opportunity to march in parades with him.

KWAME HOLMAN: Edward Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and his last living sibling, Jean Kennedy Smith, greeted many visitors, among them, celebrities, dignitaries, and local and national politicians.

Some who streamed in brought signs. Some read, “Thank you, Teddy.”

Library officials kept the doors open an extra three hours, until 2:00 this morning, to accommodate those in line last night. Condolence books were filled with tributes.

MAN: I basically just said I admire his heart and his courage.

Kennedy family mourns

KWAME HOLMAN: Last evening, Vicki Kennedy spent about an hour greeting mourners.

VICTORIA KENNEDY, widow of Senator Ted Kennedy: Our whole family is deeply grateful, deeply grateful for this outpouring of love.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senator Kennedy's nephew, Robert Kennedy Jr.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: There would have been nobody as moved as Teddy, that he would have -- he would have just loved this. And, you know, I think one of the blessings of the kind of illness that he had was that he knew he was terminal a year in advance, and all of America knew that he was terminal. And he got to take a kind of victory lap.

KWAME HOLMAN: All night, a group of friends and family kept vigil by the casket, a Kennedy tradition. At Arlington National Cemetery today, preparations for tomorrow's burial continued. Senator Kennedy will be buried near his brothers John and Robert.

Gardner Baggao traveled to Arlington Cemetery from California.

GARDNER BAGGAO: This opportunity will be a great one for us to just be a part of history in the final -- the final moments of his legacy. We know we can't make it to the -- to the funeral, so we just want to see where his final resting place is.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tasso Mousmanis came from Canada.

TASSO MOUSMANIS: I'm sure, back in Canada, a lot of people are going to be watching that on the news, people of my parents' generation especially.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tonight, there is a private celebration of life for family and friends at the library in Boston. Tomorrow, President Obama will deliver a eulogy at the funeral before Senator Kennedy is laid to rest.

Somber and celebratory mood

JEFFREY BROWN: And more now from Boston Globe reporter Michael Levenson, who joins us from just outside the Kennedy Library.

Michael, how would you describe the mood there today?

MICHAEL LEVENSON: I think the mood is both somber and celebratory. So, there's been a line of tens of thousands of people here outside the library.

Some of them have been weeping as they come here. Some of them have been very happy and almost cheering as they honor the senator's life. They have also been swapping stories as they wait in what was an hours-long line here, waiting to view his casket, and then to sign a book for him that is here at the library.

So, it's been a real intense emotion and a lot of things swirling here in the city.

JEFFREY BROWN: We, of course, have talked a lot here about Senator Kennedy as a national figure. But he and his family are deeply ingrained in that city, practically institutions there. How does -- how does it show itself as you go about town these days?

MICHAEL LEVENSON: I think there's been an incredible intensity of feeling that really shows what a local figure Senator Kennedy was.

In addition to being, you know, obviously, a powerful statesman, an exalted senator, he was seen by people here really as one of their own. And, as you go around the city, I have seen people, you know, tacking American flags outside their houses in South Boston, passing out posters of the senator in Mission Hill, where the funeral will be held tomorrow.

And even here, in -- in line outside the library, there was a 50-year-old construction worker from Somerville just outside of Boston born in Belfast who wanted to come here and -- and thank the senator for his work helping to broker peace in that region. I also talked to another 82-year-old woman who waited for an hour in line, leaning on her son.

She had grown up with a picture of JFK on her mantelpiece here in Dorchester, a blue-collared section of Boston, and wanted to -- to bear witness to the senator here at the -- the library. Then she wrote a -- you know, a page-long entry in his book.

So, people aren't just, you know, coming here to sign their names, but they are really pouring out their feelings. And I think that is something incredibly rare, especially when it comes to a political figure.

JEFFREY BROWN: What can you tell us about...

MICHAEL LEVENSON: For me...

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me?

Boston's political legacy

MICHAEL LEVENSON: You know, I was going to say, for me, it hearkens back to, you know, some of the -- the stories of political past here in Boston.

You know, I think back on, you know, the funeral procession for James Michael Curley, the legendary "Rascal King," mayor of Boston, when a million people thronged the streets for his funeral in 1958. That is something that you don't really see often for political figures now. But it definitely holds true for Senator Kennedy now.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what can you tell us about the events for tonight and -- and tomorrow's funeral? What -- what is known about the plans?

MICHAEL LEVENSON: Tonight, there will be a private memorial service here at the library. It's being billed as a celebration of the senator's life. And we're going to hear from several of his colleagues in Congress, Senator John McCain, as well as Senator Orrin Hatch, Vice President Biden, and former Senator Culver of Iowa, who was actually a college roommate of Kennedy's at Harvard and played with him on the football team.

There will also be a number of friends of his and former staffers speaking. So, we are going to hear a lot of anecdotes about his life, obviously an extraordinary life. And I think a lot of that will be coming to this memorial tonight. Tomorrow, there will be, obviously, the funeral at a church in Mission Hill.

The eulogy will be delivered by President Obama. The mass will be celebrated by the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley. And then the homily will be delivered by two priests who know Senator Kennedy a little bit more personally than the cardinal.

One is Reverend Monan, the former president of Boston College. And another is pastor of a church on Cape Cod where the senator was an occasional communicant. So, it will be quite an extraordinary funeral.

JEFFREY BROWN: Michael Levenson of The Boston Globe, thanks very much.

MICHAEL LEVENSON: Thank you.