Sen. Ted Kennedy, 77, Dies After Brain Cancer Battle

One of the “most accomplished Americans” in history

Ted Kennedy campaigning in 1962 (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

Ted Kennedy campaigning in 1962 (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

Those were the words of President Barack Obama from his eulogy for Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the last surviving brother in what the Associated Press (at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gs1RXaMtEaB8vsTCm-ol_zVcTexgD9AAKC8G0) calls “an enduring political dynasty.” Democratic Senator Kennedy died due to complications caused by brain cancer. He was 77 years of age. Senator Kennedy’s death came just less than two weeks after sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Of the nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, only Jean Kennedy Smith remains among the living.

In nearly 50 years of Senate service, Ted Kennedy championed the causes of health care, civil rights, education, immigration and more. He ran for the presidency in 1980 but lost the Democratic Party nomination to Jimmy Carter. In the 2008 campaign, his endorsement of Senator Obama of Illinois came at a critical time and gave Obama needed momentum.

A pragmatic liberal who would reach across the aisle

Some will remember Senator Ted Kennedy for the tragic auto accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969. However, to define the man by his struggles with alcohol is to run roughshod over his many positive accomplishments as a liberal senator, a legacy of activism that has been an aid to millions. If that activism had included the citizenship’s right to obtain easy payday loans during cash emergencies, imagine where the industry would be.

That legacy will not soon be forgotten, if the responses from those across the aisle are any indication. For instance, conservative Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch praised Senator Kennedy for his role in bipartisan bills for HIV/AIDS victims, SCHIP health insurance for children, tax breaks to stimulate disease research and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Other Kennedy causes included Meals on Wheels, abortion clinic access, the right to family leave time and OSHA. Furthermore, Senator Ted Kennedy was a consistent oppose to the conflicts in Vietnam, Ireland and Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recognized that Kennedy’s dream was “the one for which the Founding Fathers fought and for which his brothers sought to realize.” Former First Lady Nancy Reagan praised Kennedy for the great respect he showed her husband President Reagan, and pointed out that despite their political divide, they always could “find common ground.” Perhaps most telling of Ted Kennedy’s character was a comment Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown made: “Even facing illness and death he never stopped fighting for the causes which were his life’s work. I am proud to have counted him as a friend.”

Eloquence in the face of tragedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

The loss of brothers John and Robert Kennedy are stains on America’s history. Despite the crushing sorrow their assassinations brought to the Kennedy’s and the rest of the nation, Ted Kennedy helped us keep our eyes on a future where there would be a healing of harms. In his eulogy of Robert in 1968, he said, “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered 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.”

The Kennedy family’s statement on Ted’s death

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. 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, fairness and opportunity for all.

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Difficult last days didn’t keep him from his life’s work

Senator Kennedy was diagnosed in May 2008 with the cancerous brain tumor that eventually took his life. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy took their toll, but Kennedy was still able to make a few key appearances. One was his return to the Senate to cast the deciding vote for the Democrats on Medicare. His appearance during the summer 2008 Democratic National Convention was an inspiring note in the battle to reform health care. Kennedy spoke of his struggles with brain cancer and reiterated that health care had been his raison d’être as a senator. In the fall, he was also there when Barack Obama was sworn in as president, even though he suffered a seizure during the luncheon that followed.

Now that Senator Kennedy is gone, there is speculation as to what kind of effect it will have on President Obama’s attempt to pass health care reform. The result ultimately remains to be seen.

Ted Kennedy’s family legacy

Senator Edward Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett in 1958. They divorced in 1982. In 1992, he married Victoria Reggie. He is survived by daughter Kara Kennedy Allen; sons Edward Jr. and Patrick; and stepchildren Caroline and Curran Raclin.

A memoir, “True Compass,” is slated for fall publication.

Quotes on his life’s work

Health care was perhaps the one cause Senator Ted Kennedy was most passionate about, so let’s close with his view on the way things are… and how they can be changed for the better:

“What we have in the United States is not so much a health-care system as a disease-care system” – regarding health care reform, 1994

“With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay” – January 2008.

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