President Obama praised Sen. Ted Kennedy as "one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy" and called the response to his passing "a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives."
"Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend," Obama said from the Blue Heron Farm on Martha's Vineyard. "And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread."
"His extraordinary life on this Earth has come to an end. An extraordinary good that he did lives on," the president said.
The president said Kennedy's fight against cancer gave the nation the opportunity it was denied when his brothers John and Robert were assassinated: "the blessing of time to say thank you and goodbye."
The president heralded his legacy in the United States Senate and the impact he had on generations of Americans.
"His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity; in families that know new opportunity; in children who know education's promise; and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself," he said.
Obama was awoken at 2 a.m. with news of Kennedy's passing. He called the late-Senator's wife, Vicki at 2:25 a.m. to express his condolences.
White House officials said the president has no plans to travel today. The first family is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts this week and as of now there are no changes to their plans.
In 2006, then-Sen. Obama sought Kennedy's advice as he weighed a decision to run for president. Kennedy suggested to him that it could in fact be his time, and such moments are never to be squandered.
"I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague," Obama said. "I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom," he said.
When Kennedy and his niece Caroline endorsed Obama in last year's Democratic primary over then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., it changed the dynamic of the campaign in the days leading up to the 22-state Feb. 5 primary day. Kennedy compared Obama to his brother, President John F. Kennedy.
"He has lit a spark of hope amid the fierce urgency of now," Kennedy said of the senator from Illinois. "I believe that a wave of change is moving across America. If we do not turn aside, if we dare to set our course for the shores of hope, we together will go beyond the divisions of the past and find our place to build the America of the future."
"I feel change in the air," Kennedy said at the beginning of that endorsement speech. "What about you?"
At the time, Obama was in a fierce nomination battle with Clinton, who along with her husband former President Bill Clinton challenged the legitimacy of Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq. Kennedy validated Obama's credentials -- and took several veiled shots at Clinton.