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Sen. Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy died late last night at his home in Hyannis Port, Mass., after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. He was 77.

His family announced his death in a brief statement released early this morning.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” a family statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice.”

To the American public, Kennedy, nicknamed “Ted,” was best known as the last surviving son of America’s
most glamorous political family. He was the younger brother of slain President John F. Kennedy and New York Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was gunned down while seeking the White House in 1968.

Born in 1932, Edward Moore Kennedy was the youngest of Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s nine children. He  attended Harvard in 1951, playing on the freshman football team before he was caught cheating on an exam and expelled after arranging for a classmate to take a freshman Spanish exam for him. He was later re-admitted to Harvard after joining the Army and serving during the Korean War.

He went on to get a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and served as an assistant D.A in Suffolk County, Mass. Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett, known as Joan, in 1958. They had three children before divorcing in 1981; a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island.

Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, filling his brother John’s seat and serving longer than all but two senators in history.

His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged – perhaps doomed – following a 1969 auto crash in which he drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts and failed to promptly seek help for his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, who died. Kennedy swam to safety and only alerted authorities to the accident hours later. The senator told investigators he panicked. Kopechne, 28, drowned, still trapped
in the car.

“That tragedy will live with me for the rest of my life … every day for the rest of my life,” he said.

An investigation later absolved Kennedy of responsibility. He received two months suspended jail time for leaving the scene of an accident, but questions about his character haunted his political ambitions for the nation’s highest office.

Nonetheless, Kennedy staged a 1980 primary challenge to then-President Jimmy Carter that ended in defeat. That failure prompted him to reevaluate his place in history, and he dedicated himself to fulfilling his liberal political agenda by other means, famously saying, “the dream shall never die.

Like his first wife, Joan, Kennedy struggled with alcohol, and
through much of the 1980s he was viewed as a playboy with a bottle. A nephew, William Kennedy Smith, was charged and later acquitted of raping a woman at the
family’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Smith met his accuser at a nightclub during a night of bar-hopping with his uncle.

Kennedy credited his second wife Victoria Reggie, a divorced attorney whom he married in 1992, for helping him turn his life around and redirecting him back to his political career and liberal agenda.

Over the decades, he put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation to clear Congress, compiling a long list of legislation on health care, civil rights, education, and immigration.

His Senate record included bills to provide health insurance
for children of the working poor, the landmark 1990 Americans with
Disabilities Act, Meals on Wheels for the elderly, abortion clinic
access, family leave, and the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration.

Popular among Democrats, Kennedy routinely won re-election by huge margins. He relished his role as a thorn in the side of Republicans and
as leader of his party’s liberal wing.

In May of 2008, he suffered a seizure at his Cape Cod home and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

Kennedy remained involved after his diagnosis. He traveled to Denver to deliver a speech in support of President Obama during the Democratic National
Convention in August 2008 and attended Obama’s
presidential inauguration, where he was taken away on a stretcher.

Though absent from the Senate for much of this year, his name is attached to health-care legislation, and he wrote an op-ed piece in Newsweek in support of Obama’s health-care plan.

 


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