Obituary: Edward Kennedy

Politics.co.uk
Politics.co.uk

Senator Edward Kennedy, the leading figure of the dynastic American family and elder statesman of the Democratic Party, has died aged 77 following a battle with cancer.

By Jonathan Moore

An influential voice throughout the world, Edward 'Teddy' Kennedy played an important role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and was awarded a knighthood earlier this year for his work there, in addition to his services working to improve US-UK relations.

Emerging from the tragic assassination of his brothers he was at one time thought their natural successor for a run to the White House, but a chequered past meant he never secured the Democratic nomination.


However, he bore the weight of expectation that came with being the sole surviving Kennedy brother through his service as a US senator, becoming one of the most successful members of Congress and one of the longest-serving Senators in US history.

Edward Moore Kennedy was born on February 22 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest of nine, to Joseph and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

His parents were members of prominent Catholic Irish-American families and, thanks largely to his father's political position, he moved around a lot as a child, attending ten different schools by the age of eleven.

He attended Harvard in 1950 but was expelled a year later after cheating on a Spanish language exam. He joined the military and served in Europe for two years before returning to the school in 1953 to complete his education.

Although a successful athlete he was determined to follow elder brother John into politics and enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law where he managed John's 1958 re-election campaign.

After John's successful presidential campaign in 1960 his senate seat became available. Edward was keen to replace him but because of US law was not able to until he turned 30, so a family friend saw out the end of John's term until it became available in 1962.

Upon Edward's election he followed John and his other brother Robert - who were president and attorney general at the time - into politics. However, the assassination of them both within six years was to leave Edward as the sole surviving brother of four, having lost his eldest brother Joseph in the Second World War.

Many expected him to step into his brothers' shoes and make a run for the presidency but an incident just a year later was to deal a blow to his political career which would affect him for many years.

On July 18 1969 he was driving home from a party on the island of Chappaquiddick when his car crashed off a bridge into a tidal creek. Though he managed to escape, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopchene, lost her life.

He had returned to his hotel and failed to report the incident, meaning Kopchene's body was not found until the next morning. An inquest found that had he informed anyone she might have survived and he pled guilty to leaving the scene of the accident resulting in a two-month suspended jail sentence.

Despite his troubles, supporters still urged him to run for the presidency but he would not do so for another 11 years. Instead he spent the 1970s building up his reputation as a politician and helping to raise his nephews and nieces who had tragically lost their fathers.

Coming from an Irish-American background he held strong views on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the British involvement there.

In 1971 he controversially warned that "Ulster is becoming Britain's Vietnam" and called for a united Ireland, drawing harsh criticism from the British.

After years working as a senator he finally decided to make a run for the presidency in 1980, although unusually he chose to run against the incumbent president Jimmy Carter - who was seeking a second term - for the Democratic Party's nomination.

His past came back to haunt him, however, and the Chappaquiddick incident became more of an issue than his already disorganised staff had expected.

Having failed in his bid he returned to championing the liberal causes which had brought him success in the 1970s. He became a master of reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans to get bills passed and his political nous and gravitas was much sought after by fellow politicians.

He campaigned strongly on a number of issues. Despite his Catholic heritage he was a strong supporter of the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, in addition to raising the minimum wage, strengthening laws covering civil rights, the protection of senior citizens and the disabled, the environment and workers' safety.

His strong voice in the senate continued through the presidencies of Reagan, Bush Snr, Clinton and Bush Jnr and he grew into his role as one of the leading figures of the Democrats. He provided strong support for healthcare reform and was one of the first and strongest opponents of the Iraq war.

His interest in Ireland never abated, although his views changed over the years to favour a settlement over unification. In 2005 he even snubbed Gerry Adams, cancelling an arranged meeting because of the IRA's "ongoing criminal activity and contempt of rule of law".

Despite his close relationship with the Clintons he threw his support behind Barack Obama, comparing his ability to inspire to that of his brothers. This was pretty much the strongest endorsement any Democrat could receive and in return Kennedy got assurances from Obama that healthcare, which he regarded as "the cause of my life", would be top of the agenda for the new administration.

Still active in politics, his long service was recognised earlier this year when he was awarded both an honourary knighthood - for his work to bring peace to Northern Ireland - and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian honours in the US.

His first marriage, to Virginia Bennett, ended in divorce in 1982 and produced his three children: Edward Jnr, Patrick - a US congressman - and Kara. In 1992 at the age of 60 he married Victoria Reggie, a family friend. She and his children survive him.

Edward Moore Kennedy, politician, born February 22 1932, died August 26 2009.

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