Kennedy Laid To Rest

Edward Kennedy, who served in the Senate for almost half a century and came from the nation's most storied political family, has been laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Edward Kennedy, who served in the Senate for almost half a century and came from the nation's most storied political family, has been laid to rest. Thousands paid their final respects to the Massachusetts Democrat who was praised for both individual acts of kindness and a long career directing the power of government to those in need.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: Senator Kennedy often visited Arlington National Cemetery, which overlooks the nation's capitol. He came to pray at the gravesites of his two brothers, John and Robert. Yesterday, he arrived for the final time.

(Soundbite of music)

FESSLER: His body was laid to rest under the night sky after a poignant trip through Washington, D.C. and an emotional stop at the U.S. Capitol, an institution that Kennedy loved and where he, in turn, was loved. Hundreds of congressional colleagues and current and former staffers lined the steps and greeted the funeral motorcade with lengthy applause.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: And that applause grew louder when the senator's widow, Vickie, emerged from a limousine to shake the hands of those who served alongside her husband for so many years. Nearby, hundreds of spectators waved tiny American flags.

(Soundbite of applause)

FESSLER: It was the culmination of a moving tribute that began yesterday with a funeral mass at a church in Boston.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Holy father, holy son...

FESSLER: The pews were filled with dignitaries and politicians from the long stretch of Kennedy's life. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were there, as was President Barack Obama, who delivered the eulogy. He called Kennedy the greatest legislator of our time.

President BARACK OBAMA: He did it by hewing to principle, yes, but also by seeking compromise and common cause. Not through deal-making and horse-trading alone, but through friendship and kindness and humor.

FESSLER: The president said the senator was the product of a more noble time in politics, when adversaries didn't let their differences prevent cooperation and mutual respect. In fact, some of the senator's political opponents laughed the loudest when Kennedy's eldest son Ted, Jr. recalled how his father taught him some of life's most difficult lessons.

Mr. EDWARD KENNEDY, JR.: Such as how to like Republicans.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KENNEDY: He once told me, he said, Teddy, Republicans love this country just as much as I do.

FESSLER: As others remembered Kennedy's legislative accomplishments - helping the poor and disadvantaged - Ted, Jr. talked about his father, the man. He said he was someone who loved life and inspired those around him to persevere despite adversity. And he recounted how his father took him sledding after he lost his leg to cancer at age 12.

Mr. KENNEDY: As I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry. And I said, I can't do this. I said, I'll never be able to climb up that hill. And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do.

FESSLER: And he said, with his father's help, he did. Many in the church were in tears at this and other stories about a man who for better or worse, helped to shape American life. Prominent musicians, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and tenor Placido Domingo, performed at the mass. But as the crowd filed out into a heavy rain, they sang, perhaps, a more fitting refrain.

(Soundbite of song, "America the Beautiful")

Unidentified People: (Singing) Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesty...

FESSLER: Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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