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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The funeral Mass for Senator Edward Kennedy in Boston has ended.

President BARACK OBAMA: ...that Kennedy's life work was not to champion the causes of those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding.

He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that gift to touch as many lives, and right as many wrongs, as the years would allow.

SIMON: President Barack Obama delivering the eulogy.

Edward Kennedy was the baby of the family. He lived to be its patriarch. He was almost anointed after the assassinations of his brothers to run for president. Of course, he never won the presidency, but he flourished in the U.S. Senate.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer has more on a family that Americans have followed for more than 50 years.

LINDA WERTHHEIMER: Teddy Kennedy was a fairly public person, even in the 1930s. He's shown sitting in his father's lap in a widely published family photograph, taken the year his father, Joe Kennedy, became the United States ambassador to Great Britain.

One of nine children in the picture, he's a grinning, chubby, mischievous-looking child in a sailor suit. We never lost sight of him during a long and eventful life.

One of the many roles that history handed to Senator Kennedy was watching over his brothers' children, and fostering their versions of the family ambitions.

Mr. JOHN F. KENNEDY JR.: Over a quarter century ago, my father stood before you to accept the nomination for the presidency of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

WERTHHEIMER: That was the late John F. Kennedy Jr., speaking at the 1988 Democratic Convention. His Uncle Teddy brokered opportunities for younger Kennedys to appear before the political world. One of the best was the chance to introduce Uncle Teddy at a nominating convention, symbolically claiming a share of the Kennedy tradition.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KENNEDY JR.: I'm not a political leader, but I can speak for those of my age who have been inspired by Teddy to give their energy and their ideas to their community and not just to themselves.

WERTHHEIMER: JFK Jr. made quite an impression that day. He was better looking even than his father had been, the gawky Kennedy looks smoothed by the dark beauty of his mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Until his death in 1999, he, too, was a fixture in our lives and imaginations - a tiny boy crawling under his dad's desk in the Oval Office, and of course on his third birthday in November of 1963, stepping forward to salute his father's casket at the president's funeral.

JFK Jr. and his sister, Caroline, are easily the best-known of the next generation of Kennedys, and the wealthiest. This country watched them grow up, and grieved at the loss of JFK Jr.

Caroline took a turn at the Democratic convention last summer, introducing a tribute to her Uncle Teddy, the man who stood in for her father at her wedding.

Ms. CAROLINE KENNEDY SCHLOSSBERG (Attorney): In our family, he's never missed a First Communion, a graduation, or a chance to walk one of his nieces down the aisle. He has a special relationship with each of us. And his 60 great nieces and nephews all know that the best cookies and the best laughs are always found at Uncle Teddy's.

WERTHHEIMER: Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg famously campaigned for Barack Obama with her uncle, calling Obama the candidate who inspired her as so many people have said her father inspired them. And for a time, it seemed possible that another Kennedy might step into the role many Americans imagined for her brother, and begin her own political career.

Caroline expressed strong interest in being appointed to Senator Hillary Clinton's seat in New York, but then withdrew her name after stories appeared saying the governor was reluctant to appoint her.

Although privacy has never been possible for President Kennedy's family, both Caroline and her mother sometimes sought it. Senator Kennedy referred to that in his eulogy for his sister-in-law Jackie.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democratic, Massachusetts): I often think of what she said about Jack in December after he died: They made him a legend, when he would have preferred to be a man. Jackie would have preferred to be just herself, but the world insisted that she be a legend, too.

WERTHHEIMER: Of the dozens of the Kennedy brothers' descendants, several have begun political careers. Senator Kennedy's son Patrick represents Rhode Island in the House of Representatives, but has had repeated problems with substance abuse. Robert Kennedy's son Joe was in the House for six terms, but did not run for re-election after a secret annulment of his first marriage became public. His sister Kathleen was lieutenant governor of Maryland and ran for the top spot but lost.

Many children of the nine Kennedy siblings have carried on a family tradition of public service on a smaller scale. Several are environmental activists; others work with poor people or people with disabilities. Among the most successful are the children of the late Eunice Kennedy, one of the Kennedy sisters, and her husband, Sargent Shriver.

Eunice Kennedy is best known for creating the Special Olympics. Sargent Shriver was the founding director of the Peace Corps. Their daughter, Maria, is the first lady of California. One of their four sons runs the Special Olympics, and another, Mark Shriver, served in the Maryland legislature and now runs the stateside programs of the charity Save the Children. He said his parents set a persuasive example.

Mr. MARK SHRIVER (Save the Children): They never said you have to go into politics or elected office, you never have to be a politician, in a small P. It was just, there was this strong sense that if you're going to do something, do it very, very well and work hard at it.

My father never missed a day of work. And I don't think my mother did, either. They went to the office every day and they worked very, very hard. So I think that did permeate our existence. It permeated our upbringing, and it's great. I mean, I think it definitely makes you, at least in my case, it definitely gets you fired up in the morning. If you really think that you're going to help kids do better, that's exciting and that's fun.

WERTHHEIMER: With the possible exception of Caroline Kennedy, it seems unlikely that these younger Kennedys will rise to the level of Senator Edward Kennedy and his brothers. But then, Senator Kennedy himself took some time to develop into the national leader he was on the day he died; outliving the disgrace, if not the tragedy, of Chappaquiddick, eventually outgrowing even his privileged beginnings.

The competition to fill his Senate seat may be the next intersection of this family and this country. Several of the younger Kennedys are interested. Traditionally, the senator's widow is usually considered, although friends say that is not likely.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Washington.

SIMON: You'll find more stories looking at Senator Kennedy's life and legacy at npr.org.

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