Kennedy Family Legacy: Triumph Over Tragedy

The death of Ted Kennedy leaves next generation to continue family's legacy.

Aug. 26, 2009— -- They were in magazines and on television -- the all-American family that was anything but ordinary.

The Kennedys are the closest thing to royalty the United States has ever had -- powerful politicians, glamorous ladies, family vacations in tony New England.

From Jack to Jackie, Bobby to Eunice, the last of the original family's political stalwarts has departed with U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died shortly before midnight Tuesday at age 77.

Shortly after the death of the youngest Kennedy sibling, the man others dubbed "the Liberal Lion," the family issued a statement saying in part, "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever."

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife Maria Shriver is Kennedy's niece, issued a statement championing the senator's accomplishments inside the Capitol and out.

"Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle. He was a man of great faith and character," Schwarzenegger said. "Teddy taught us all that public service isn't a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life, and his legacy will live on."

The Next Kennedy Generation

Despite Kennedy's death, not long after the death of his sister Eunice earlier this month, there's a new generation of Kennedys determined to make its mark, to carry on that legacy their Uncle Teddy left behind.

Maeve Townsend, the granddaughter of former presidential candidate, U.S. attorney general and Sen. Robert Kennedy, said she, like those who came before her, tries to live by the motto of the Kennedy family matriarch Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy: "To whom much is given, much is expected."

"I mean, what I've gotten from my life is, I am so lucky and I am so blessed and that I need to figure out [how] to take all these things and give back," Townsend said.

Her younger sister Kerry Townsend is a recent high school graduate and already has big plans to make a difference, ideally in the same arena that was so important to Ted Kennedy -- health care.

"I don't think we've had any doctors in the family so far, have we?" Kerry Townsend asked, quickly reminded by her mother that there's only been one, so a female doctor would still be a first for the family.

The Townsend girls' twin 28-year-old cousins Matt and Joe Kennedy, also Robert Kennedy's grandchildren, concurred that their family legacy is not only something to be proud of, but to continue.

"We're all just, you know, so proud of what everybody in our family has accomplished," Matt Kennedy said. "It's an incredible family to be a part of."

His brother Joe added, "My generation, I think, is getting older and coming of age, that it's something that we're very excited to kind of pick up and run with."

But future senators? Future presidents? Will the new generation of Kennedy's aspire to public office?

"It's obviously a question that comes up a bunch," Joe Kennedy said. " I think we both take it as just kind of an honor because it's a testament to the legacy that our family has."

For more on the life and legacy of Sen. Ted Kennedy, watch "World News" at 6:30 p.m. ET and the ABC News Special "Remembering Ted Kennedy" at 10 p.m. ET. Click here for ABC News' full coverage.

Mourning Ted Kennedy: 'The Greatest United States Senator of Our Time'

The Kennedy boys stormed the national scene in the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy was elected president, Robert Kennedy was named attorney general and Ted Kennedy was elected as a U.S. senator -- a political trifecta.

But outside Washington, they were a close-knit family that had to bear more tragedy than most. President Kennedy's 1963 assassination was followed by Bobby Kennedy's assassination in June 1968, while he was campaigning for his own presidential bid. More than 30 years later, his nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife died in a 1999 plane crash.

Ted Kennedy himself was injured in a 1969 plane crash and came under fire when he crashed his car on Chappaquiddick, a small island off Martha's Vineyard, killing 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne.

But it was his passionate dedication to health care, his constant work on behalf of those who had suffered injustice that is his legacy.

President Obama, awakened with the news of Kennedy's death around 2 a.m. this morning, called Kennedy "the greatest United States Senator of our time."

"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy," Obama said in a statement released shortly after. "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts."

Since Kennedy's brain cancer diagnosis last year, his death was something his family and colleagues knew was unavoidable. But in true Kennedy fashion, he didn't slow down until he had no choice but to do so -- making a memorable stump speech for Obama a year ago at the Democratic National Convention.

Family pictures late this spring show a noticeably weakened Kennedy out on the water in a family boat, but still smiling.

The family reportedly gathered around the senator during his final days, knowing the end was near. There was even talk of his grandchildren not being allowed in the room because he had deteriorated so badly.

"I think it must have been just incredibly difficult for everybody," ABC News contributor Cokie Roberts said this morning on "Good Morning America," " because Ted Kennedy became the father to this whole family."