Staffers, Lawmakers Say Goodbye to Kennedy
The Congressional community paid its final respects to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Saturday afternoon during an emotional prayer ceremony on the Capitol’s East Front.By 3 p.m., hundreds of House and Senate staff had begun queuing up outside the Senate’s main doors in the hopes of getting a coveted spot from which to view Kennedy’s motorcade. All told, Kennedy’s family said that some 900 staff — including hundreds of current and former Kennedy aides — filled the Senate’s East Front for more than three hours as the late Senator’s casket made its way first from Boston to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and then to the Capitol before heading on to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.In the hours leading up to Kennedy’s arrival, a number of current and former lawmakers made their way to the Capitol, including Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), John Dingell (D-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), as well as former Sens. Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho) and Chuck Robb (D-Va.). Even Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has been hospitalized for much of the past year, made an appearance and was greeted with applause from the assembled staff when he was wheeled out to the front of the Capitol minutes before the motorcade arrived.According to organizers, the motorcade’s progress from Andrews to the Capitol was slowed by hundreds of well-wishers lining the road. More than 4,000 citizens lined the front of the Capitol and Constitution Avenue. Staff and members of the public waved American and Irish flags as well as a smattering of hand-written signs thanking Kennedy for his work.Accompanied by Kennedy’s family and close friends, the hearse carrying his flag-draped casket arrived at the Capitol under sunny skies at 6:25 p.m. as applause rang out from the crowd.Kennedy’s wife, Vicky, his children and grandchildren, and members of the extended Kennedy family quietly moved along the front edge of the crowd, thanking staff and lawmakers while accepting tearful hugs and well wishes.House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin expressed the Capitol community’s condolences and said staff, lawmakers and the public had come together “to express our solidarity with you at this time.— He then led a prayer in which he praised Kennedy and called on those who had worked with the Senator to “raise the torch of his convictions and commitments for a new generation yet to be born or to all those still untouched by the social responsibility inherent in every aspect of human freedom.—Samuel Bonds, choral director of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, then led the crowd in a verse of “America the Beautiful— before Kennedy’s son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Mass.), thanked the gathered staff and told the crowd that Kennedy’s greatness was based not just on his own work but on his aides. “He knew he was only great because he had great staff. … He’d be very proud to see you all out here paying a final respect and tribute to his memory,— Kennedy said.As the family re-entered their black limousines, tearful staff quietly sang “America the Beautiful— again before the family, waving from their car windows, escorted Kennedy to Arlington National Cemetery.