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Rain, Tears At Boston's Farewell To Kennedy

GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Thousands gathered in Boston today to say goodbye to Senator Edward Kennedy. The men and women who have made - and still make - political history in this country came to honor the man President Barack Obama called the greatest legislator of all time.

President BARACK OBAMA: The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was.

RAZ: In just a moment, we'll talk with NPR's Brian Naylor at Arlington National Cemetery, where Senator Kennedy will be buried this afternooon. But first to NPR's Robert Smith, who takes us through the day's events in Boston.

SMITH: Friends of Senator Kennedy sometimes joke about how the senator would drag them out in a storm just to go sailing. This morning, he brought them out in the pouring rain one last time. The clouds opened up with a deluge as the plastic-wrapped casket of Senator Kennedy was taken up the stairs of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Forty pallbearers, senators, congressmen, his wife, Vicki, watched from under black umbrellas.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Kennedy had plenty of time to plan his own funeral, and he chose a simple church in a diverse neighborhood. Despite the luminaries in the pews, the focus was on Kennedy and his message. Father Donald Monan led the services.

Father DONALD MONAN: My dear friends, a few scant miles from here, the city on a hill stands less tall against the morning sky. And the sea out toward Nantucket is a bit more forlorn at the loss of one of its most ardent lovers.

SMITH: Ted was the youngest son of Rose and Joe Kennedy, and he asked that at his funeral, the youngest generation of Kennedys should be the stars. His grandchildren, nieces and nephews remembered the words of the Kennedy patriarch.

TEDDY KENNEDY: For my grandfather's commitment and persistence ..TEXT: KYLIE KENNEDY: That we will not in our nation measure human beings by what they cannot do.

GRACE ALLEN: No matter what their color, no matter what their place of birth.

MAX ALLEN: That every American will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.

ROBIN LAWFORD: The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on. We pray to the Lord.

Unidentified People: Lord hear our prayer.

SMITH: That was young Teddy and Kylie Kennedy, Grace and Max Allen, and Robin Lawford. If there was a theme, it was that Kennedy never left anyone behind. Not the disadvantaged, not the sick, not his family. His son Ted Kennedy Jr. told the mourners how he lost a leg as a 12-year-old child. Soon afterwards, his father tried to get him out in the snow to go sledding.

Mr. TED KENNEDY JR.: And I said, I can't do this. I'll never be able to climb up that hill. And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.

SMITH: But this was at its core an Irish funeral so there was joking and singing. President Obama even used a family nickname for Kennedy: the Grand Fromage - the Big Cheese. Obama delivered a simple, nonpolitical eulogy, telling stories, then saying that he'll be left with a single, enduring image.

President BARACK OBAMA: The image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for whatever storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon. May God bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: An honor guard carried Kennedy's casket out of the Basilica. His widow, Vicki, gave it one long look before it was lifted into the hearse. Ted Kennedy was leaving his birthplace, Boston, for the last time.

Robert Smith, NPR News, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Robert Smith is a host for NPR's Planet Money where he tells stories about how the global economy is affecting our lives.

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