Ted Kennedy Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom in Absentia

Kennedy's eldest child receives award honoring her celebrated father.

ByABC News
August 11, 2009, 8:17 PM

August 12, 2009— -- Today at a White House ceremony, President Obama awarded Sen. Edward Kennedy a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Kennedy did not attend the ceremony. His oldest child, Kara Kennedy, accepted the award on his behalf. Also present were his other children, Ted Jr. -- with his wife Kiki, Patrick, Caroline Raclin and Curran Raclin.

"This is a chance for me, and for the United States of America to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries," the president said in his opening remarks this afternoon.

In honoring Kennedy, the president recounted a story he said Kennedy sometimes tells about a little boy who sees an old man collecting stranded starfish on the beach and throwing them back into the sea.

"'There are so many', asks the boy. 'What difference can your efforts possibly make?'" Obama said, recounting the story. "The old man studies the starfish in his hand and tosses it to safety, saying, 'It makes a difference to that one.'

"For nearly half-a-century, Ted Kennedy has been walking that beach, making a difference for that soldier fighting for freedom, that refugee looking for a way home, that senior searching for dignity, that worker striving for opportunity, that student aspiring to college, that family reaching for the American dream," the president said.

"The life of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has made a difference for us all."

Kennedy remained at home in Hyannis Port, Mass., where he is fighting brain cancer. He was diagnosed in May 2008.

Kennedy is among 16 recipients this year, who have made an "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors," a July 30 White House announcement read. "This year's awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change.''

After being named for the award, Kennedy's office immediately released a statement saying he was "profoundly grateful to President Obama for this extraordinary honor."

"My life has been committed to the ideal of public service which President Kennedy wanted the Medal of Freedom to represent. To receive it from another President who prizes that same ideal of service and inspires so many to serve is a great privilege that moves me deeply," Kennedy's statement read. The senator threw his support behind Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008.

Since the diagnosis, Kennedy has made few public appearances. It is unknown whether he will appear at the funeral of his oldest sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died Tuesday at the age of 88. The funeral will be held Friday at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, Mass.

Kennedy has returned to the Senate only a few times since Inauguration Day. On his first post-diagnosis appearance last July, he surprised the Senate by showing up to supply the added vote needed to break a Republican filibuster against a bill to preserve Medicare fees for doctors.

Universal health care has been a life-long goal of Kennedy's, and one he has devoted his Senate career to, as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.