Thousands Of Mourners File Past Kennedy's Casket

Thousands of people have lined up to file past the casket of Senator Edward Kennedy. His body is lying in repose at his slain brother's presidential library in Boston. The senator's widow Vicki Reggie Kennedy was one of dozens of family members, who came outside to greet people standing in line after dark.

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Edward Kennedy's death has brought an outpouring from the people who sent him to the Senate time and time again. An estimated 20,000 people came to see the Senator's flag-draped coffin at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. People were visiting until the early hours of this morning.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: The Senator's casket was escorted by a military honor guard and dozens of family members, who gathered privately first

Unidentified Man #1: Slowly, slowly.

SMITH: And then opened the doors to the thousands of people lined up to pay their respects.

Ms. JANE CAMUS(ph): I just feel like this is the only way I can say thank you.

SMITH: Jane Camus says, Senator Kennedy helped her family get health care for a disabled nephew. Norma Torres(ph) came from Philadelphia as she puts it just to be counted by the Kennedys.

Ms. NORMA TORRES: You have to do, what you have to do. Because it tells them that his work was not in vain. That people did appreciate his work.

SMITH: Hundreds of people actually got the chance to tell the family in person.

Ms. MARYANNE CAMP(ph): I said that he was such a hard worker and that he was my hero.

SMITH: Maryanne Camp is a stranger to the senator, but still said prayers by his casket, right beside his closest relative.

Ms. CAMP: The family is hurting, as I saw Caroline and a nephew hugging very closely. You could see they were physically hurting, as we all are.

Ms. VICKIE REGGIE KENNEDY: Thank you so much, thank you so much for being here. It means so much to all of us.

SMITH: The senator's widow, Vickie Reggie Kennedy, was one of dozens family members who also came outside to greet people after dark.

Ms. KENNEDY: Have you been in the line for a long time?

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, hours. But that's okay.

Ms. KENNEDY: I'm so glad I made it to thank you.

Unidentified Woman #2: That's okay.

Ms. KENNEDY: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Ms. DEBRA COTTES(ph): It's very sad. It brought tears to my eyes that they came during their grief and were concerned with the people standing in line.

SMITH: Debra Cottes from Worcester, Massachusetts says it was a fitting gesture from a family, who was all about giving. It brought Kerry Wallace(ph), also from Worcester, to tears.

Ms. KERRY WALLACE: This is a gift they have given this community to open up in their time of darkness and allow us to come in. They don't have to be this. This doesn't have to be public. We are not family. This is a gift they have given and yet she is thanking us. It's just amazing. The whole family was.

Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR.: Just go shake peoples hands and mom will come find us.

SMITH: Even the youngest grandchildren worked the crowds. Robert Kennedy Jr. says the family's public greeting was not planned, but the family was deeply moved by the turnout.

Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR: That's a great tribute to Teddy. He would have loved this. You know, it's a wonderful thing to feel like we are part of a much larger family.

SMITH: Family, is how Pat Abby(ph) describes the senator she's never met. She says he helped a relative of hers emigrate from Nigeria.

Ms. PAT ABBY: I look at him as an embodiment of compassion. Someone, who used his power to help the less powerful. So, we in my community see him as a big uncle.

SMITH: Abby showed up early yesterday to sign a condolence book to the senator.

Ms. THOMASINA MINOR(ph): Just write your name. Go ahead.

SMITH: As did Thomasina Minor and her three year old daughter. As an African-American, Minor says her little girl will have a better life because of the Kennedys.

Ms. MINOR: They see no color. They just see people. Just wish everybody could be like that.

SMITH: Kennedy was also appreciated by many for way he would personally reach out to comfort the suffering. Milita(ph) and Carlos Ardando's(ph) son Alexander(ph) was killed in Iraq. They say the senator's own pain made him more empathetic to theirs.

Ms. MILITA ARDANDO: He told us that he remembers the day that his mom, Rose, lost Joe. And he said that was part of the reason why he would go out of the way to meet the families of the fallen, and he would hug us and that really meant a lot.

SMITH: A few years ago, the senator read a letter Alex had written just before he was killed.

Ms. ARDANDO: In the letter, my stepson said he is not afraid of dying, but he is afraid of what would happen to his family should something happen to him.

SMITH: It was a sentiment expressed by the senator as well. The Ardandos say it would be a fitting turn if the massive public outpouring since Kennedy's death now helps his family through their grief.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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