WBUR

Edward Kennedy, The Senate’s Last Lion, Is Dead At 77

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate for 46 years and championed causes large and small, died at home in Hyannisport on Tuesday night, his family said in a statement. He was 77.

Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008 and lived months longer than doctors had predicted.

Kennedy won the seat that opened up when his brother, John F. Kennedy, became president. The senator was elected to eight full terms and was the second most senior member of the Senate.

Kennedy’s absence from Washington over the past few months had sparked concern. His top priority, “health care for all Americans,” is in what President Obama calls “a make or break period.”

Kennedy’s committee passed his version of a health reform bill in July, but it is not aligned with other versions of the bill in some key areas. Colleagues said they felt his absence daily as they worked toward a compromise.

Friends and aides say Kennedy continued working the phones, trying to help broker agreements on health reform.

In July, Newsweek magazine published an article written by Kennedy, making the case for health care reform. In it, he wrote:

For four decades I have carried this cause … from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me–and more urgency–than ever before. But it’s always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years.

Kennedy had been harder to reach and engage in recent months. He continued to sail on his boat, the Mya, although he sat out a Nantucket Sound race that had been his Memorial Day pastime for years.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in the Staples Center in Los Angeles in August 2000. (AP)

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in the Staples Center in Los Angeles in August 2000. (AP)

At the time of his diagnosis, doctors said the average survival time for someone his age with an aggressive brain tumor was 15 months.

Kennedy made just a handful of public appearances on Capitol Hill after his cancer diagnosis. The Washington Post reported that he voted in just 11 of hundreds of roll calls since he fell ill. The senator cast his last vote in late April.

But Kennedy continued to work, often from his home in Hyannisport. The senator issued statements, including one on the passage of a bill he had worked on for years that would let the Food and Drug Administration regulate the tobacco industry.

Another signature Kennedy measure that would expand the federal hate crimes law is tied up on Capitol Hill. Through June, colleagues were saying the senator seemed determined to return to D.C. for the health reform debate.

Kennedy dropped most public speaking engagements after he fell ill. But he kept one particular date in Denver last August. Fighting kidney stones, the senator roused fellow Democrats at their national convention, as he confirmed his determination to pass a universal health care bill this year.

And this is the cause of my life, new hope, that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American, North, South, East, West, young and old will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.

Kennedy considered running for president several times and did challenge President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Democratic primary but lost. Political analysts say he underestimated the degree to which Americans still questioned his character and judgment in the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne. She was killed when the car she was riding in, driven by Kennedy, went off a bridge on Martha’s Vineyard in 1969.

Some Democrats blamed Kennedy for weakening the party in 1980 and contributing to Carter’s loss in the general election.

Kennedy continued in the Senate, where many observers say his work on health care, immigration, civil rights, and education made him one of the most effective senators in U.S. history and certainly in the history of Massachusetts.

Kennedy’s diagnosis in 2008 focused state leaders attention on how much they depend on Kennedy to protect the state’s interests in Washington. A special election, likely to be held early next year, would determine who Massachusetts turns to now that Kennedy is gone.

Kennedy is survived by his wife, Vicki, his former wife, Joan, his three children and his two stepchildren.

Kennedy leaves four grandchildren and 23 nieces and nephews, with many of whom he maintained close relationships. Of Kennedy’s eight siblings, Jean Kennedy Smith is the only living member of the generation that established the Kennedy dynasty.

WBUR’s Margaret Evans and Mark Navin contributed to this report.

Related Links:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • http://N/A Jason Longton

    It is difficult to put into words the feelings an occasion such as this draws up. In times of mourning we often reflect on how much we have lost. We have lost a champion of our causes and the voice of our conscience. However, through the sadness and tears let us remember how much we have gained. His was a life to be envied and celebrated, rich in experiences and achievements. A life whose profound humanity touched the lives of so many and has moved so many more, as evidenced on this day. Though we face a future without him, it is a future brighter, fairer, more just and more equal for his having lived. Today we lost Senator Kennedy, but we never need loose his spirit or inspiration.
    Thank you for a forum to so weakly express what I feel so deeply.

  • Ellen Sturgis

    Many have been eloquent so I won’t repeat or go on–but as a lifelong Mass resident who happens to today be in Oregon, I was sad to read in the paper here an emphasis still on being the little brother of great men. Ted stood on his own, did more than his brothers because he lived and because HE WORKED REALLY HARD!! We have been lucky enough to take him for granted–we didn’t have to make those extra calls, send those extra letters, because we knew he was always sticking up for education, health care, immigration…doing what he believed was best. Thank you Senator Kennedy for everything. We will miss you more and more as we realize how much you have impacted our lives to the good.

  • Rugemeleza Nshala

    Senator Edward Kennedy was the giant of our times. He lived through many trials and tribulations but he showed us that through determination and a never-die attitude one is able to make a lasting impact on humanity. His courageous fights for civil rights, the poor, human dignity in America and throughout the world made him stand out as a humanitarian and great statesman. He was able to shun the life of privilege to champion the causes of marginalized and despised. He fought for the public interest knowing that when public interest is upheld all of us become richer. He leaves us a lasting legacy that the greatest virtue of humanity is a call and heed to public service underlined by hard-work, love and persistence. May God Rest You in Peace Teddy!

  • Joan Crimlisk

    Health Care in the United States has benefited from his work over the years – including the Massachusetts teaching hospitals in the year 2000. He had also seen that Boston Medical Center had a light filled atrium like the other academic medical centers.

  • Linda McCone

    I was a young mother who had recently been discharged from the U. S. Army in 1976. I had an infant son, who is now thirty-three years old. I was having difficulty obtaining VA benefits, finances that I needed very badly. There was so much red tape that I quickly became discouraged. I mentioned this to a friend who said, “You should contact Ted Kennedy, he’ll help”. I was desperate and willing to try anything. I contacted his office. Imagine my utter shock when I got a return call. A problem that I struggled with for weeks, was settled in a matter of days! I have never forgotten this and have always been grateful. For those of you who may be tired of the “Kennedy story”., this is a time for reflection, a peek in the mirror. How far can you walk in this man’s shoes?

  • http://www.horizonsforhomelesschildren.org Horizons for Homeless Children

    Horizons for Homeless Children acknowledges the passing of longtime advocate and supporter Senator Edward Kennedy. Senator Kennedy was a true champion of homeless children and their families in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S. In addition to fighting for homeless children’s access to early education and care, he also supported Horizons for Homeless Children’s programs in Boston and across the state.

    We were fortunate to welcome Senator Kennedy to one of our programs in 2005 and he had a magnetic presence in the classroom. He led a rousing sing-along of “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” with a group of homeless 4 year olds and was a shining star in their eyes. He left a significant impression that day and will always be fondly remembered by all involved in the work of Horizons for Homeless Children.

    In recognition of all that he accomplished for homeless children, he received HHC’s Public Leadership Award in 2007. Senator Kennedy will be truly missed.

  • Pat Clark

    He was a Giant! That’s all I have to say.

  • Diane Cavicchio

    We have lost our Lion. We always felt that if Senator Kennedy was there to represent us that we would be in good hands. He was a rock and had the determination to make a difference. His legacy will live on forever. It was comforting to know he was always there for the underdog. We were so fortunate to have him as our Senator for 46 years. His presence will be sorely missed. My condolences to his family who have lost so many loved ones through the years. A very strong family will once again come together in their sorrow. May God Bless you all.

  • Elizabeth Harmer Dionne

    My heart certainly goes out to Senator Kennedy’s family, but I am glad that “Camelot” is finally over. King Arthur’s Camelot was about chivalry and respect for women. Neither President Kennedy nor Senator (Ted) Kennedy exhibited notable amounts of either. Senator Kennedy was not quite as libidinous a womanizer as his older brother, but nonetheless, some women found his company dangerous. For one woman, associating with Senator Kennedy ended her life. Behind every great man is a great woman. I give Victoria Reggie Kennedy tremendous credit for the sea-change in Senator Kennedy’s later years. Without her, he may well have ended up in jail. His Senatorial career certainly would not have been as successful. In the likely showdown between Mrs. Kennedy and Joe Kennedy for the vacant Kennedy seat, I hope Mrs. Kennedy carries the day.

  • Kris Kandarpa, MD, PhD

    Many years ago, here on a foreign student visa, I was faced with the daunting prospect of having to leave these United States, unable to obtain a ‘work permit’ to continue my employment as a research engineer. Unfamiliar with my own country of origin, which I left as a young child, and having already lived in others, I had long ago decided that my heart & soul were fundamentally American, and that America is where I belonged. It was a time when our country was going through intense socio-political soul-searching and yet the dreams of the nation were being pursued unfalteringly through both noisy protest and quiet hard work. That a nation that had already achieved greatness would allow itself this self-cleansing convinced me that America, in spite of its imperfections, was ultimately humanity’s last hope for a better World. It was this America, already ‘my America’, that had rejected me! Saddened but not deterred, I made one last desperate attempt and wrote a letter to Senator Kennedy explaining my predicament. A week later I got a prompt reply – he would not be able to help me – certainly not what I was hoping for. However, a few days later, I got a phone call from one of the Senator’s aids. In a brief conversation he asked me to come the Senator’s Boston office to discuss my situation. I went, they listened, they advised, they helped and about two months later I had my work permit! In very short order, my life’s trajectory had changed and five years later I was sworn in as a citizen at Faneuil Hall. For this, and for what ensued, I am ever indebted to Senator Kennedy – he did not know me and he owed me nothing – I was a mere foreign student. That he could see through such disparity in power and privilege and use his own to ameliorate the live of others will forever be his legacy.

  • Charlie Mc

    From 1955-1960,I spent my summers and college weekends and holidays “partying” on Cape Cod. Such happy memories, were largely due to the fact that I and my buddies managed to get through those happy hours without tragedy. Not everyone was so fortunate. Eight years later I, along with many others, wrote off any political future for Teddy Kennedy because he was involved in the tragic death of a young lady who had worked on Ted’s brother Bobby’s campaign. Many in this country never forgave him nor forgot what was seen as a tragic failure of character.
    For the next forty years, he proved his character by the help he gave to his fellow Americans and to the poor and disenfranchised wherever and whenever their needs presented themselves to him. Senator Kennedy’s greatest possession was his compunction regarding his own sins and failures which so made him one of us.
    His compassion for his fellowman stemmed from his own awareness of weakness and failings. He was truly a humble man whose power did not stem from ambition or pride or competitiveness, but of his knowledge that we are all “in the same boat”. That of one to whom much had been given, much was required. Has any family given more?

  • http://keramica.ucoz.com/ Roman

    I think Kennedy was the most powerfull person in our national politics.I’d like to share this article in my site He tried to fight with the national gambling and ways of spreading drugs. That’s why he was murded.

  • http://ScottBrownForPresident.com ScottBrownForPresident.com

    Wow, thank goodness that’s over! Let’s all move on folks, get your free Scott Brown for President bumper sticker today at http://www.ScottBrownForPresident.com while supplies last.

Most Popular