HYANNIS PORT, Mass. — A black shroud with a vase of white roses draped a desk in the Senate on Wednesday. There was no more shock of white hair, booming voice or pointed finger in the heat of debate.
Ted Kennedy, the last of the Kennedys who fascinated the nation with their ambition, style, idealism, tragedies — and sometimes sheer recklessness — is dead at 77. With his passing, the Senate lost its dominant liberal and one of its legendary dealmakers.
The nation lost what remained of "Camelot," the already distant era of the family dynasty. Edward Moore Kennedy was the last of the famous brothers: John, the assassinated president, Robert, the assassinated senator and presidential candidate, Joseph, the aviator killed in action in World War II when Ted was 12.
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.
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His own presidential bid a failure 30 years ago, Kennedy last year 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. Obama will deliver the eulogy. He will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston before that.
Also buried at Arlington are John and Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline; their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days, and their stillborn child.
Part of political royalty
To 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."
Kennedy lost his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, less than two weeks ago, saw the 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.
Like Obama, Kennedy was a master orator. But the words that live for the ages seem to be those he uttered in tragedy or defeat.
Older people remember his eulogy of Robert Kennedy, when he asked history not to idealize his brother but remember him "simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
Remembered, too, is his speech conceding the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination to the incumbent, Jimmy Carter.
"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," he said.
By then, his hopes of reaching the White House had been damaged by his behavior a decade earlier in the scandal known as Chappaquiddick.
On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island, on Martha's Vineyard, and swam to safety while companion Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in the car. He did not report the accident for about nine hours. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident; a judge said his actions probably contributed to the young woman's death. He received a suspended sentence and probation.
A long legislative legacy
Kennedy's legislative legacy includes health insurance for children of the working poor, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, family leave, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He was key to passage of the No Child Left Behind Education law and a Medicare drug benefit for the elderly, both championed by Republican President George W. Bush.
In the Senate, Republicans respected and often befriended him.
But his liberalism marked him as a lightning rod, too. He proved a handy fund-raising foil for Republicans.
"I think that once he realized he was never going to be president — that that was not the legacy he had to follow — he really worked at becoming the best senator he possibly could," Leahy said. "And he did."
Kennedy first was elected to the Senate in 1962, and he served longer than all but two senators in history.
Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
He made a surprise return to the Capitol in July 2008 to cast a decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again in January to see his former Senate colleague sworn in as president but suffered a seizure at a lunch afterward.
Survivors include a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island; and two stepchildren, Caroline and Curran Raclin.