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Leaders Pay Tribute to Kennedy at Boston Funeral

BY Dave Gustafson   August 29, 2009 at 2:02 PM EDT

Sen. Kennedy's casket at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica; AFP/Getty images pool photo

Kennedy was eulogized as a tender father, a fierce political opponent, an imperfect man and a champion for the downtrodden.

His casket was draped with a white cloth inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica — a church where he often prayed as his daughter, Kara, was being treated for cancer.

President Obama said the assassinations of the senator’s brothers, the deaths of his siblings

at a young age and his children’s severe health problems were among a “string of events that would have broken a lesser man. “

As were many of the tributes, Mr. Obama’s eulogy was sprinkled with stories of the senator’s spirit and good humor that guided him “through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know.”

He recounted the tale of how the famous dealmaker won over the support of a committee chairman on an immigration bill.

“Teddy walked into a meeting with a plain manila envelope, and showed only the chairman that it was filled with the Texan’s favorite cigars,” the president said. “When the negotiations were going well, he would inch the envelope closer to the chairman. When they weren’t, he would pull it back. Before long, the deal was done.”

After delivering his eulogy to “a man whose name graces nearly one thousand laws, and who penned more than three hundred laws himself,” Mr. Obama hugged Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, while touching the casket of his political ally and mentor.

Outside the church, hundreds of mourners lined the sidewalks. Some held signs urging the lawmakers inside to approve health care legislation in the senator’s honor while others said they simply wanted to witness a historical moment for Massachusetts.

Bostonian Lillian Bennett, 59, said she was a longtime Kennedy supporter and was determined to get as close as she could to the invitation-only funeral, despite the driving rain.

“I said to myself this morning, ‘no matter what the weather, I’m going. I don’t care if I have to swim,” she told the Associated Press, calling Kennedy “irreplaceable.”

American flags, old campaign signs and photographs of Kennedy dotted the street and storefronts leading up to the church.

Streets were shut down around the church and the Federal Aviation Administration imposed a no-fly zone as three of the four living former presidents, Kennedy relatives and friends and dozens of former and current members of Congress gathered for the funeral Mass. Kennedy died late Tuesday at age 77, after battling brain cancer for more than 15 months.

Among the estimated 1,500 people in attendance were foreign dignitaries, Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, singer Tony Bennett and actor Jack Nicholson. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tenor Placido Domingo and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham performed during the service.

Ted Kennedy Jr. spoke of his father’s grandiose persona — storyteller, pilot, painter, dinner table devil’s advocate, gourmand, lover and adventurer.

“Although it hasn’t been easy at times to live with this name, I’ve never been more proud of it than I am today,” he said.

Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to cancer at age 12, spoke of his father’s guidance and prodding during a sledding outing during which his father helped him climb an icy hill with a new prosthetic limb.

Kennedy Jr. said his father taught him the importance of cultivating and maintaining personal relationships, and being willing to compromise, but never on one’s values.

“He even taught me some of life’s hardest lessons, such as how to like Republicans,” he joked.

Kennedy Jr. said his father loved that he was admired by his allies and respected by his foes.

Pallbearers led Kennedy’s casket out of Mission Church while the congregation sang “America the Beautiful.”

Kennedy’s casket will be flown to Washington where it will be driven past the U.S. Capitol where he served 46 years in the Senate before being taken to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.