May 19, 2013
President Obama: Eulogy for a Lion
Posted on Aug 30, 2009
Of course, luck had little to do with Ted Kennedy’s legislative success; he knew that. A few years ago, his father-in-law told him that he and Daniel Webster just might be the two greatest senators of all time. Without missing a beat, Teddy replied, “What did Webster do?” (Laughter.)
But though it is Teddy’s historic body of achievements that we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss. It was the friend and the colleague who was always the first to pick up the phone and say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I hope you feel better,” or “What can I do to help?” It was the boss so adored by his staff that over 500, spanning five decades, showed up for his 75th birthday party. It was the man who sent birthday wishes and thank-you notes and even his own paintings to so many who never imagined that a U.S. senator of such stature would take the time to think about somebody like them. I have one of those paintings in my private study off the Oval Office—a Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who had just arrived in Washington and happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into his office. That, by the way, is my second gift from Teddy and Vicki after our dog Bo. And it seems like everyone has one of those stories—the ones that often start with “You wouldn’t believe who called me today.”
Ted Kennedy was the father who looked not only after his own three children, but John’s and Bobby’s as well. He took them camping and taught them to sail. He laughed and danced with them at birthdays and weddings; cried and mourned with them through hardship and tragedy; and passed on that same sense of service and selflessness that his parents had instilled in him. Shortly after Ted walked Caroline down the aisle and gave her away at the altar, he received a note from Jackie that read, “On you the carefree youngest brother fell a burden a hero would have begged to been spared. We are all going to make it because you were always there with your love.”
Not only did the Kennedy family make it because of Ted’s love—he made it because of theirs, especially because the love and the life he found in Vicki. After so much loss and so much sorrow, it could not have been easy for Ted to risk his heart again. And that he did is a testament to how deeply he loved this remarkable woman from Louisiana. And she didn’t just love him back. As Ted would often acknowledge, Vicki saved him. She gave him strength and purpose; joy and friendship; and stood by him always, especially in those last, hardest days.
What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and with love, and with joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of others.
This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy. He once said, as has already been mentioned, of his brother Bobby that he need not be idealized or enlarged in death because what he was in life—and I imagine he would say the same about himself. The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became. We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy—not for the sake of ambition or vanity; not for wealth or power; but only for the people and the country that he loved.
In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack. But he didn’t stop there. He kept calling and checking up on them. He fought through red tape to get them assistance and grief counseling. He invited them sailing, played with their children, and would write each family a letter whenever the anniversary of that terrible day came along. To one widow, he wrote the following:
“As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved ones would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us.”
We carry on.
Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those that he has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good that he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image—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. (Applause.)
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