Just a week after surgeons biopsied his brain and diagnosed him with terminal cancer, Sen. Ted Kennedy was at the helm of his beloved yacht Mya last year sailing a stiff southern wind from Nantucket to Hyannisport, his wife Vicki Reggie at his side.
The months that followed that sunny Memorial Day weekend were far stormier, as the health of the eight-term senator slowly deteriorated. Through those difficult days, Vicki served not just as a trusted first mate, but as a vigilant steward of his health, a protector of his privacy and a guardian of his legacy.
That picture of Kennedy surrounded by his friends and family at the 2008 Figawi regatta is remarkable not just as a tableau of persistence in the face of adversity, but as a snapshot of how Kennedy would want to be remembered -- hale and vigorous, captain of his family and his fate.
As Kennedy is laid to rest, it's a scrubbed version of his biography with which he is being eulogized. Remembered as a stalwart liberal, master of the Senate and standard bearer of his brothers' New Frontier, the obituaries could not ignore the scandals about booze and womanizing over the decades.
If anyone deserves credit for Kennedy's transition from scandal-maker to statesman it's the man himself. But it was Vicki, confidants say, who tamed the "last lion of the Senate," recast her husband's legacy, and has kept -- at least for now -- the remaining walls of Camelot from crumbling into oblivion.
Her loyalty to her husband and to his ideals has made Vicki, a former lawyer who has never held public office, the leading contender for Kennedy's Senate seat.
Since their marriage in 1992, Kennedy experienced the least profligate and most productive period of his career, spearheading Senate battles on education and health care. Following his diagnosis, confidants say, Vicki's role expanded as she became the chief gatekeeper of his schedule, balancing meetings with doctors about his health and meetings with legislators about health care.
"She looked after his health and managed his time," said Susan Milligan, co-author of "Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy" and an ABC News consultant who covered Kennedy for years as a Boston Globe reporter on Capitol Hill. "He would be out on that boat and having meetings on health care at all hours of the night if she'd let him get away with it. She put the brakes on, kept him in line, forced him to stick to a regimen."
In the aftermath of his first marriage to Joan Bennett Kennedy in 1981, reportedly marked by his infidelity and her alcoholism, Kennedy spent nearly a decade as a bachelor, which only augmented his reputation as a hard-partying rake.
More than 20 years his junior, friends were initially skeptical of the relationship that blossomed between Kennedy and Vicki, a divorcee and the daughter of an old friend and political ally from Louisiana.
Marrying in the wake of his nephew's rape trial -- the lowest point in Kennedy's very public private life since Chappaquiddick -- and after a decade of rakish bachelorhood and embarrassing headlines, some inside the beltway saw Kennedy's choice to settle down in 1992 as a political move, a marriage of convenience.