Sen. Edward Kennedy was remembered as a fierce competitor, a tender-hearted father, and, in the words of President Obama, "the greatest legislator of all time," at a packed funeral Mass on Saturday in his hometown.
As the strains of "America the Beautiful," sung by more than 1,400 voices, rose to the vaulted rafters of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, members of his storied family bore the veteran Massachusetts lawmaker's remains out of the church and into a steady rain.
"My father taught me even the most profound losses are survivable," the senator's eldest son, Teddy Kennedy Jr., told the mourners as he described how the two of them worked to climb an icy hill together after the younger Kennedy lost a leg to cancer.
But the stricken faces in the crowd belied his brave words.
"The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became," President Obama said in a eulogy that culminated the 2½-hour service.
Following the funeral, Kennedy's body was flown to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. One last stately, sentimental procession is planned to the U.S. Capitol, where members of the public have been invited to watch the cortege. Past and present members of Kennedy's staff began lining the marble steps leading up to the doors of the Senate chamber, where Kennedy served for nearly a half-century, to bid him farewell. Ailing Sen Robert Byrd (D — W. Va.) held an American flag and joined staffers on the steps in the intense summer heat.
Afterwards, Kennedy was driven across the river for a hero's burial in Arlington National Cemetery next to the slain siblings whose mantle he inherited, former president John Kennedy and senator Robert Kennedy.
The last of a band of brothers whose father prepped them for political power and whose tragedies and triumphs are intertwined with five decades of the nation's history, Kennedy never became president but he is exiting the national stage as one.
Mourners at his funeral today included former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and more than 80 current and former members of Congress — a bipartisan delegation that attested to Kennedy's ability to maintain friendships in the face of fierce political differences.
"He could disagree without being disagreeable," said former senator Phil Gramm, a conservative Texas Republican whose fiscal conservatism put him on the opposite side of the unabashedly liberal Kennedy in most debates.
After Kennedy was diagnosed with the brain cancer that killed him Tuesday at the age of 77, Gramm said he wrote him a joking note: "I told him that since I'd always believed God was a conservative, I thought I'd help him out by putting him at the top of my prayer list," Gramm said.
"He wrote me back right away saying, 'Thanks for covering all my bases. I feel better already.' "
Kennedy chose the site of his funeral, a massive Roman Catholic basilica where he prayed for his daugther, Kara, when she was being treated successfully for lung cancer nearby.
The surrounding neighborhood is a cultural polyglot that reflects the latest waves of Boston's newcomers — a Spanish iglesia sat across the street from the basilica as well as a Punjabi market..