For the Kennedys: The End of an Era

End of the Kennedy
WATCH End of the Kennedy Era

The sun has set on the Kennedy era.

When Congress reconvenes next week, it will be the first time in 64 years that there has not been a Kennedy in office.

"I think it is sad," Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy and a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, told ABC News. "I think we need a Kennedy."

The last Kennedy -- Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island -- has officially left the building, saying, "my life is taking a new direction and I will not be a candidate for reelection."

His father, Sen. Edward Kennedy, the liberal lion of the Senate, died in 2009. Now, the new frontier on Capitol Hill has a distinctly Republican flavor. Replacing the Kennedys as the only father-son team on the Hill are Rep. Ron Paul and Senator-elect Rand Paul, both Tea Party Republicans. Where the Kennedys focused on civil rights and expanding Medicare, the Pauls emphasize fiscal responsibility and limited government.

The symbolic change on Capitol Hill is hard to escape. Patrick Kennedy's House office will go to a Republican. Ted Kennedy's coveted third-floor corner suite -- a 3,500 square-foot space with a prime view of the Capitol -- initially went to the man who won his Massachusetts Senate seat, Republican Scott Brown. But there wasn't much chance a junior senator would hold on to such prime real estate for long. Now Brown is getting kicked out by the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who will bring a new set of family photos to the same walls.

John F. Kennedy launched the family franchise in 1947 when, at age 30, he joined the U.S. Congress. He spent 6 six years as a congressman and eight years as a senator, fighting for civil rights and social welfare.

In 1961, he moved to the White House, famously calling on Americans to, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

He brought with him his two brothers in to the political fray: Robert became attorney general and then senator, and Ted would be elected to the Senate too.

Bred for Politics

The attention attracted to the family's glamour, intellect and occasional scandal would last decades and help propel Ted Kennedy to serve almost 47 years in Congress. He championed Medicare, rights for the disabled, and healthcare reform. His son, Patrick, and Robert's son, Joe, also followed in the Kennedy footsteps serving as Congressmen.

The Kennedys were bred for politics.

"We had quizzes around the dinner table - what's going on , what are you doing about it? That was part of the Kennedy legacy," Townsend said. "You can get involved, that you can make a difference, that you can improve the life of people in your community and around the world."

It's a legacy of triumph, tragedy and a national fascination with Democratic Party's first family. John and Robert were both assassinated, and Ted Kennedy famously pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of his car accident at Chappaquiddick.

"That combination of celebrity, high power, great gifts, and scandals makes an incredible mix I think to keep people's minds and attention on this family," historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told ABC News in an interview.

"There have been scandals, been assassinations," Kearns Goodwin said. "There have been fatal car accidents, and all of it played out in the public eye."

Still, there is a new generation of young Kennedys who have yet to pick up the torch of public service. It's possible the sun has not set on Camelot for good.