Massachusetts, Aug 27 – With Americans mourning the end of a dynasty that dominated US politics for a generation, Edward Kennedy’s family prepared Thursday to accompany his body on its final journey.
All government buildings lowered the Stars and Stripes to half-mast, as did private homes in the Massachusetts seaside resort of Hyannis Port, where the veteran senator died late Tuesday at his family compound aged 77.
President Barack Obama led tributes from across the US political spectrum and around the world, saying "the outpouring of love, gratitude and fond memories which we have all witnessed is a testimony to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives."
Family members prepared to begin celebrations of a life touched by tragedy, scandals and ultimately success, by escorting his coffin Thursday in a cortege to his home city of Boston.
His body was to lie in state at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library ahead of a Catholic funeral mass Saturday during which Obama was scheduled to deliver a eulogy.
Later that day, the Democratic Party giant’s remains were to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on a Virginia hillside overlooking Washington, alongside his slain brothers. Obama was not expected to attend the burial.
Kennedy, who served 47 years in the Senate, died after a long battle with brain cancer.
His disappearance ended his family’s half-century-long dominance of the Democratic Party and robbed Obama of a crucial ally in an increasingly uphill battle to reform the US healthcare system.
It was the eldest brother — Joseph Kennedy, Jr — that father, millionaire businessman Joseph Kennedy had originally intended for political greatness. But That dream was cut short when he died aged only 29 during a World War II bombing mission.
Many had thought Kennedy destined for the highest office after his brothers were assassinated — first president John F. Kennedy in 1963, then senator Robert F. Kennedy, as he campaigned for the presidency in 1968.
But personal scandal got in the way of the youngest Kennedy brother’s White House ambitions, in particular the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne. She was the passenger who was riding with him when he drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts and fled the scene.
Yet by the end, the man dubbed the liberal lion for his championing of progressive causes earned the respect even of former foes.
Praise poured in from across the world, while US television outlets and newspapers were flooded with retrospectives on his eventful, if controversial life.
More than 100 journalists and ranks of trucks with satellite dishes besieged the sprawling beachfront residence that served as Cape Cod headquarters for the Kennedy clan as strong winds whipped through the moored yachts.
An emotional Ana Lages, a chemical engineer from Cambridge, Massachusetts, placed flowers at the police line.
Kennedy, who long fought for immigrants’ rights, had helped her get a green card 30 years ago, she said, sobbing.
"I’m very grateful to him," she said. While not sharing his left-leaning politics, she admired "a man who helped so many people."
Interrupting his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, just across the Nantucket Sound from Hyannis Port, Obama said that "even though we knew this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread."
Kennedy would have been a valuable ally to Obama, who owed his meteoric rise to the White House last year in part to the senator’s stunning endorsement.
He was renowned for his legislative skills and just last year described bringing health coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans as "the cause of my life."
But there was also praise from political rivals.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch lamented the loss of a "treasured friend."
World leaders also lauded Kennedy as a great American and paid tribute to his campaigning for peace and social welfare.
Kennedy, who had eight siblings, died just two weeks after his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, passed away at the age of 88. That leaves Jean Kennedy Smith, 81, as the last surviving member of her generation of the Kennedy clan.