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Sen. Edward M. Kennedy dies of cancer at age 77

By Glen Johnson and Bob Salsberg

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 26 2009 1:19 p.m. MDT

Kennedy's desk in the Senate, which had also been used by his brother John, was covered Wednesday by a black shroud and a vase of white roses.

In his later years, Kennedy cut a barrel-chested profile, with a swath of white hair, a booming voice and a thick, widely imitated Boston accent. He coupled fist-pumping floor speeches with Irish charm and formidable negotiating skills. He was both a passionate liberal and a clear-eyed pragmatist, willing to reach across the political aisle.

He was first elected to the Senate in 1962, taking the seat that his brother John had occupied before winning the White House, and he served longer than all but two senators in history.

His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged — perhaps doomed — in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known as Chappaquiddick. He sought the White House more than a decade later, lost the Democratic nomination to Carter, and bowed out with a stirring valedictory: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.

He made a surprise return to the Capitol last summer to cast a decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again last January to see his former Senate colleague sworn in as president but suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon afterward.

He also made a forceful appearance at last summer's Democratic National Convention, where he spoke of his own illness and said health care was the cause of his life. His death occurred precisely one year later.

He was away from the Senate for much of this year, leaving Republicans and Democrats to speculate about what his absence meant for the fate of Obama's health care proposals.

Under state law, Kennedy's successor will be chosen by special election. In his last known public act, the senator urged Massachusetts state legislators to give Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick the power to name an interim replacement. But that appears unlikely, even though Patrick said Wednesday in radio interviews that he would sign such a bill if it reached his desk. The vacancy leaves Democrats in Washington with one less vote for at least the next several months.

His death came less than two weeks after that of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver on Aug. 11. Kennedy was not present for the funeral, an indication of the precariousness of his own health. Of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, only one — Jean Kennedy Smith — survives.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy's son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said his father had defied the predictions of doctors by surviving more than a year with his fight against brain cancer.

The younger Kennedy said that gave family members a surprise blessing, as they were able to spend more time with the senator and to tell him how much he had meant to their lives.

Kennedy arrived in the Senate after a string of family tragedies. He was the only one of the four Kennedy brothers to die of natural causes.

Kennedy's eldest brother, Joseph, was killed in a plane crash in World War II. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles as he campaigned for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

Years later, in 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed at 38 in the crash of the plane he was piloting. His wife died with him.

It fell to Ted Kennedy to deliver the eulogies, to comfort his brothers' widows, to mentor fatherless nieces and nephews. It was Ted Kennedy who walked JFK's daughter, Caroline, down the aisle at her wedding.

Tragedy had a way of bringing out his eloquence.

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