Alex Wong, Getty Images
HYANNIS PORT, Mass. — The greatest heights eluded Ted Kennedy over a lifetime of achievement and pain. No presidency. No universal health care, chief among his causes.
Instead, Kennedy built his Washington monument stone by stone, his imprint distinct on the Senate's most important works over nearly half a century. He toiled across the Potomac River from the graveyard of his fallen brothers.
The last of the Kennedys who fascinated the nation with their ambition, style, idealism, tragedies — and sometimes sheer recklessness — Edward Moore Kennedy died late Tuesday night at 77. A black shroud and vase of white roses sat Wednesday on his Senate desk, which John Kennedy had used before him.
So dropped the final curtain on "Camelot," the already distant era of the Kennedy dynasty.
The Massachusetts senator's extended political family of fellow Democrats and rival Republicans, steeled for his death since his brain-tumor diagnosis a year ago yet still jarred by it, joined in mourning. Kennedy was the Senate's dominant liberal and one of its legendary dealmakers.
Just last year he jumped into a fractious Democratic presidential nomination fight to side with Barack Obama, giving the Illinois senator a boost that had the air of a family anointment.
"For his family, he was a guardian," Obama said Wednesday. "For America, he was a defender of a dream."
The president, vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, was awakened after 2 a.m. and told of Kennedy's death. He spoke soon after with the senator's widow, Victoria, and ordered flags flown at half-staff on all federal buildings.
Kennedy will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral Mass in Boston. He will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston before that.
Also buried at Arlington, the military cemetery overlooking the capital city, are John and Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline; their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days, and their stillborn child.
To Americans and much of the world, Kennedy was best known as the last surviving son of the nation's most glamorous political family. Of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith is the only one alive.
To senators of both parties, he was one of their own.
"Even when you expect it, even when you know it's coming, in this case it hurts a great deal," said Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Politicians also calculated the consequences for Obama's push for expanded health coverage. For several months, at least, Kennedy's death will deprive the Democrats of a vote that could prove crucial for his signature cause of health reform.
His illness had sidelined him from an intense debate that would have found him at the core any other time. Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, his improbable Republican partner on children's health insurance, volunteerism, student aid and more, said the Senate probably would have had a health-care deal by now if Kennedy had been healthy enough to work with him.
"Iconic, larger than life," Hatch said of his friend. "We were like fighting brothers."
He was the last of the famous Kennedy brothers: John the assassinated president, Robert the assassinated senator and presidential candidate and Joseph the aviator killed in action in World War II when Ted was 12.
He lost his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, less than two weeks ago, saw the bright promise of nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. end in a plane crash in 1999 and struggled with excesses of his own until he became a settled elder statesman.
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