Friends, Family Gather To Celebrate Kennedy's Life

Sen. Edward Kennedy's family and colleagues, and other dignitaries are attending "a celebration of life" at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. Speakers at the event include Kennedy's senate colleagues and his niece Caroline Kennedy.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Boston tonight, people are remembering Senator Edward Kennedy. His closest…

(Soundbite of music)

BOSTON COMMUNITY CHORUS: (Singing) (unintelligible)

SIEGEL: It's the Boston Community Chorus. One by one, speakers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential library in Boston are taking to a podium behind Kennedy's flag-draped casket. Speakers, like the audience in attendance, include a who's who of politics and of Kennedy family members. Among them, Joseph P. Kennedy II, who recalled what friends and family alike loved about his late uncle.

Mr. JOSEPH P. KENNEDY JR.: They loved his laugh. They loved to spend time. But at its core, they loved to be with an individual who stood for something.

SIEGEL: Outside the Kennedy library is NPR's Robert Smith and he joins us now. Robert, what's the mood of the people as they were coming into the library today?

ROBERT SMITH: Well, I think it was tricky for people because this is supposed to be an old-fashioned Irish wake, they call it a celebration of life rather than a memorial. But it's been such a grueling couple of days for the family. You can just see it on their faces. They are pretty grim coming in. And it doesn't help that it's pouring rain in Boston.

You know, we spoke with Boston mayor, Thomas Menino, and he said he was specifically told - he's going speak later - to be funny, to be light-hearted. But it's really difficult under these circumstances to make jokes. And Senator John Kerry, he had the best advice, which was - he told us that Kennedy himself had the best sense of humor. So, he tried to imagine what Kennedy would've imagined the jokes that would be told at his wake. And so far, it's been a pretty upbeat, light-hearted remembrance of Senator Kennedy.

SIEGEL: Now, some of the Kennedy family have been spending time there at the library over the past two days receiving mourners. What's the scene been like there as people have come to pay their respects?

SMITH: Well, it's been sort of amazing because people have been standing in the sun for two, three hours just to go into the John F. Kennedy library and walk past the flag-draped casket. And, you know, when I talk to people afterwards, they said, it really was worth it, the amount of time they spent. That just seeing the coffin and being able to greet family members, for instance, Senator Kennedy's wife Vicki was there for a while, it really helped them know that it was real, that this was the end of an era. It was closure for them in a way.

SIEGEL: Now, tomorrow is likely to be another emotional day for Boston. It's also likely to be a logistically challenging one. What's going to be happening on Saturday?

SMITH: Well, the funeral is tomorrow morning, and - just imagine this: there's a mind boggling number of political leaders - four presidents, three former vice presidents, 79 senators and former senators, the Cabinet, foreign heads of state, I can go on, Supreme Court justices. Now, imagine all these people converging into a tiny neighborhood for the funeral tomorrow. So we're talking narrow street, dead-ends for this basilica where they're going to hold the funeral and it's supposed to be torrentially raining. So the funeral is expected to shut down large sections of Boston tomorrow and the lockdown's already starting tonight.

President Obama arrives tonight in Boston. And they're already shutting down streets and exits off the Mass Turnpike in preparation. And police officials are just begging people, do not try and come out and see the funeral in person. Everything's going to be shut down.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Robert Smith speaking to us from outside the JFK Memorial library in Boston, where friends and family of Ted Kennedy are celebrating the late senator's life at this hour. Thank you, Robert.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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