President Obama called him "The Big Cheese," while his son recalled his loving embrace

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 29, 2009 09:00 AM
Credit: Bruce Cotler/Globe Photos

With public tributes having poured in since Tuesday’s announcement that Senator Edward Kennedy had died, 15 months after he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, Saturday brought his burial at Arlington National Cemetery after a private funeral Mass at Boston’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston’s Mission Hill section.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush attended the funeral, with Kennedy’s friend, President Barack Obama. A spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush said that the 85-year-old was not able to attend the service had earlier extended his condolences over the phone to Kennedy’s widow, Victoria.

In his eulogy, President Obama called Kennedy “a champion to those who had none, the soul of the Democratic party and the Lion of the Senate.” He also noted Kennedy’s other names: father, brother, husband, grandfather, “Uncle Teddy” and “The Grand Fromage” – “The Big Cheese” – and credited the senator with 1,000 legislative bills, 300 of which he pened himself.

The senator’s first wife, Joan Kennedy (they were divorced in 1982 after 24 years of marriage and three children), also attended the service, and had an extended conversation outside the church with former President and Laura Bush.

The secretary of state of Ireland, the ancestral home of the Boston-based Kennedy dynasty, and a representative of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who earlier this year announced Kennedy’s honorary knighthood, also attended.

During communion, as some attendees walked to the altar, opera tenor Placido Domingo sang, accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Tanglewood Festival Choir. The soprano Susan Graham sang “Ave Maria.”

Afterward, the senator’s son, Edward M. Kennedy Jr., greeted the dignitaries in the basilica and noted, with typical Kennedy humor, that his father used to say, “I don’t mind that I’m not president, I just mind that somebody else is.”

Ted Jr. also told the story of how, when he was 12 and adjusting to the loss of a leg to cancer, his father embraced him as he advised that “even profound losses are survivable,” and “nothing is impossible.”

Said President Obama: “It is his giving heart we shall miss.”