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08.25.09

Who Will Give Teddy's Eulogy?

For decades, it has been a family tradition for the Kennedy brothers to eulogize their fallen siblings—John did it for Joe Jr., Bobby did it for John, and Teddy did it for Bobby. Now that the last brother has passed away, Kennedy biographer Thurston Clarke picks the perfect relative to bid farewell to the Lion of the Senate.

Obama, Biden, Kerry, and McCain will be among the speakers at Ted Kennedy's funeral services, but for decades, it has been a family tradition for the Kennedy brothers to eulogize their fallen siblings—John did it for Joe Jr., Bobby did it for John, and Teddy did it for Bobby. Now that the last brother has passed away, Kennedy biographer Thurston Clarke picks the perfect relative to bid farewell to the Lion of the Senate.

Until now, it has been the custom for the oldest surviving Kennedy brother to eulogize his fallen sibling. But who should deliver the eulogy for the last of the four Kennedy brothers?

After eulogizing his fallen brother, tears streamed down Bobby’s face as he left the stage, and for the next 15 minutes he sat alone on a fire escape, weeping.

After Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. died while undertaking a hazardous mission to bomb German V-bomb bases in France, Jack Kennedy collected reminiscences from relatives, classmates, and teachers, publishing them in the privately printed As We Remember Joe. The introduction served as Jack’s eulogy to Joe. "I sometimes wonder whether I ever really knew him," he wrote. "He had always a slight detachment from things around him–a wall of reserve which few people ever succeeded in penetrating [lines that could just as easily have been written about their author after his assassination]. . . . His worldly success was so assured and inevitable that his death seems to have cut into the natural order of things."

The Daily Beast's Complete Kennedy Coverage: Tributes, Photos, and VideosRobert Kennedy delivered a tribute to JFK at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. After telling delegates, "When there were periods of crisis, you stood beside him. When there were periods of happiness, you laughed with him. And when there were periods of sorrow, you comforted him," he inserted a passage from Shakespeare into the prepared text and, in a voice choked with emotion, said, "When I think of President Kennedy, I think of what Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet: ‘When he shall die, take him and cut him out into stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be love with the night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.’" Tears streamed down his face as he left the stage, and for the next fifteen minutes he sat alone on a fire escape, weeping.

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Four years later, it was Ted Kennedy, the youngest and last brother, who eulogized Bobby at his funeral in St Patrick’s Cathedral. His voice quivered and his eyes filled with tears as 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. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.’"

Who in Ted’s family could deliver a speech comparable to his heartbreaking tribute to Bobby?

Although some may propose President Obama, the most obvious, and fitting choice, has to be Caroline Kennedy. Since Bobby’s assassination, Ted has served as her surrogate father, walking her down the aisle, and delivering a moving tribute at her brother’s mass: "We dared to think. . .. that this John Kennedy would live to comb grey hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years."

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention Caroline eloquently summoned forth the ghosts of Camelot while introducing a filmed tribute to her ailing uncle, reminding delegates that "For 46 years, he has been so much more than just a senator for the people of Massachusetts. He’s been a senator for all who believe in a dream that’s never died." She followed this with a litany of the causes he had championed—the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Head Start, and student loans—each punctuated by a refrain of "Teddy is your senator too." After describing him as "a man who insists that America live up to her highest ideals," and is "always there for others," she reminded the audience of their close personal relationship, praising him for having "never missed a first communion, a graduation, or a chance to walk one of his nieces down the aisle."

The speech proved that Caroline Kennedy can deliver a moving speech. As in the case of Bobby’s tribute to Jack, and Teddy’s to Bobby, her close relationship with Teddy would lend an additional poignancy and power to her words. If she is called upon to deliver his eulogy, the same magic could happen again, reviving her political career (if she wants one), and writing a fitting and poignant epitaph to the passing of Camelot’s first generation.

Thurston Clarke has written 10 books, including The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America (a New York Times bestseller), California Fault (a New York Times Notable Book) and Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America. His articles have been published in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.