"My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country."
– John F. Kennedy
January 20th, 1961
The last Kennedy brother's death was announced on August 26, 2009, marking the end of an era in politics. Ted Kennedy, dead at the age of 77. Referred to as "The Lion of the Senate", his final battle wasn’t just in the Senate; it was also against a year-long struggle with brain cancer.
In the days following, I observed history unfolding; the motorcade escort on August 27, from Hyannisport to the Boston library, where thousands of mourners were lined to view the passing hearse and capture this moment in time. I was privy to (due to cable TV of course) the August 29 ceremony given at the Kennedy Library where 13 of his friends, colleagues and family members shared heartfelt and even humorous memories of their Teddy.
These past few days I have watched documentaries about this captivating and incredible family, the Kennedys; Headliners and Legends, with Lestor Holt, The Kennedy Brothers, narrated by Chris Matthews, and the most compelling: the HBO documentary, Teddy in His Own Words.
When my parents were young toddlers, Joseph Kennedy Jr., the eldest in a family of nine, was the first to lose his life. He died in the military, fighting in WWII, on August 12, 1944 at the very young age of 29. I was only one year old when our 35th President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated at the young age of 46, riding in his limousine beside his wife Jacqueline, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas . And I was six when Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was only 42, was assassinated on June 5, 1968 in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
Today I am 47, with a love for history and a fascination with politics, and was able to view the funeral mass for the final Kennedy brother who, unlike his siblings, was given the gift of a long life, coupled with the responsibility that follows. The mass celebrating Ted Kennedy's life was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and aired for all Americans to see. With so many family and friends paying their respects and saying their good-byes, I was not only taken back to my Catholic roots, I was left emotional, shedding a few tears because Ted Kennedy was first a son, a brother, a husband, father and an uncle. In the pews sat our current President, Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, as well as three former presidents: George Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with other political figures from both sides of the aisle, which brought me to the conclusion that this was a somber day in politics and American history – a day I will remember forever.
The Kennedy brothers may have been the “soul of the Democratic Party”, but for all Americans they represented so much more, even for a Republican like me. However you decide to judge the Kennedy brothers, there is no disputing these four men epitomized the words of one of their own–President J.F.K. They didn't "ask what their country could do for them…they did for their country”– our country.
The Kennedy brothers took to heart their true role in politics, that of public servant, something lacking in most of our politicians today. They were dedicated to leaving the world better than they found it. Whatever drove them, whether it was their faith, their family or the good part of human nature, they demonstrated that they truly cared for humanity, the poor and the downtrodden, because they were willing to do (and did) something about it no matter the cost, and not just in the political realm, but in their personal lives as well.
In my heart and mind I ponder these questions. What would America (and the world for that matter) have been like without the Kennedy brothers? With no Kennedy brothers left, what will it be like now? And will another Kennedy arise out of the ashes to claim another day and time in politics, influencing our hearts and minds and impacting history as they did?
As the last Kennedy brother is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a country mourns the man and the end of a political era, but their legacy will live forever. Today I am not a critic, just another mourner.