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Mass Honors 'The Greatest Legislator'

Last updated 7:40 p.m. ET

President Barack Obama led the nation Saturday in mourning and remembering "the greatest legislator of our time," celebrating the indelible impact of Edward M. Kennedy as a senator for nearly a half-century and leader of America's most famous family during tragedy and triumph.

Delivering an emotional, simple eulogy for Kennedy that capped a two-hour Roman Catholic funeral Mass, Mr. Obama employed humor, his own experiences and timeless anecdotes to memorialize the senator, who died Tuesday at 77 after battling brain cancer for more than a year.

The country may have viewed him as "heir to a weighty legacy," Mr. Obama said, but he was playfully known by the youngest Kennedys less grandly: as the big cheese, "The Grand Fromage."

"Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections," Mr. Obama said. "It was to give a voice to those who were not heard, to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity, to make real the dream of our founding."

Mr. Obama called Kennedy "the lion of the United States Senate" and said that "though it is Teddy's historic body of achievements that we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss."

"Politics took a back seat today... but they weren't entirely absent," CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports. "Not at the funeral for the head of America's most prominent Democratic family."

Kennedy's career spanned the assassinations of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy; the civil rights era and Apollo moon landings; and battles over health, education and immigration. Mr. Obama noted that Kennedy's name "graces nearly one thousand laws" and that he penned more than three hundred himself.

But in his address, the president focused as much on Kennedy's impact on the U.S. since first being elected in 1962 as on his individual outreach to those in need, whether relative or stranger,
and his resilience through terrible personal trials - "more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know."

Read the complete text of Mr. Obama's eulogy

The president, born roughly 18 months before Kennedy first took office, noted that Kennedy lost two siblings by the age of sixteen and saw two more assassinated later. Another sibling, his sister, Eunice, died exactly two weeks before Kennedy himself.

"He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible,"
Obama said. "It's a string of events that would have broken a lesser man ... But that was not Ted Kennedy."

"Ted Kennedy was the baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock," the president said, embracing Vicki Kennedy and lightly patting the senator's casket as he returned to his seat.

Sen. Kennedy Funeral Program (pdf)

The service drew to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica three of the four living former presidents, dozens of Kennedy relatives, pews full of current and former members of Congress and hundreds of others affected by the senator in ways large and small. No fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers took part. Mournful performances came from tenor Placido Domingo and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Joining Mr. Obama and nearly 1,500 other invitees were former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as 58 current members of the U.S. Senate, 21 former members and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, once an aide to Kennedy. Singer Tony Bennett and actor Jack Nicholson also attended.

Reflecting Kennedy's role as a peacemaker in Northern Ireland was a delegation from the troubled province: Shaun Woodward, secretary of state; Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister; and Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen and Sarah Brown, wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, also attended.

Complete coverage of Sen. Kennedy's life and death

Before the mass, family and friends were joined by political figures in gathering around the 77-year-old senator's flag-draped casket at the Kennedy presidential library for a brief prayer service. His body was then brought in a motorcade to the church.

Kennedy's casket - carried by eight servicemen - was wrapped tightly in plastic to guard against a steady, unseasonably cold rain as it was removed from his brother's presidential library and put into a hearse for the drive to the church. His widow, Victoria, closed her eyes slowly and appeared to choke back tears as she watched under cover of an umbrella. The family had held a brief and private prayer service at the library in the morning.

The route to the church was lined with people, some holding "Kennedy-Thanks" signs and one person waving a lone red heart.

A military honor guard carried Kennedy's casket up the church steps. "We welcome the body of our friend," said a priest.

Under the soaring ceilings of the basilica, a church Kennedy had frequented almost daily while his daughter, Kara, battled cancer at a nearby hospital, over a dozen Kennedy family members accompanied the casket down the church aisle, each straining to touch a piece of the cloth covering it.

Kara Kennedy was the first family member to speak at the service, reading Psalm 72. Ten of Kennedy's grandchildren, nieces and nephews offered a set of brief prayers.

Ted Kennedy Jr., in a eulogy, said of his father, "He was an Irishman and a proud member of the Democratic party.

He told a story from shortly after he lost a leg to cancer at age 12, when his father helped him up a snow-covered hill with an arm around his waist and words of encouragement. "There's nothing you can't do," he said his father told him. Choking back tears, Kennedy Jr. said: "My father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable."

"He even taught me some of life's harder lessons - such as how to like Republicans. He once told me, 'Teddy, Republicans love this country just as much as I do,'" he said to laughter.

"At the end of his life, my dad returned home. He died at the place he loved more than any other, Cape Cod. The last months of my dad's life were not sad or terrifying but filled with profound experiences, a series of moments more precious than I could have imagined. He taught me more about humility, vulnerability, and courage that he had taught me in my whole life. Although he lived a full and complete life by any measure, the fact is he wasn't done. He still had work to do. He was so proud of where we had recently come as a nation. And although I do grieve for what might have been, for what he might have helped us accomplish, I pray today that we can set aside this sadness and instead celebrate all that he was and did and stood for."

(AP Photo/Brian Snyder)
He and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., Kennedy's other son, cried during a long embrace in between their two addresses.

Patrick mused about how, as a child, he wondered why Santa Claus mysteriously had the same two moles as his father, and said even after the identity was revealed he continued to see his dad a "magical figure."

Patrick, who suffered from asthma and from the side effects of medication he took, said that when he was growing up he would require a special, nonallergen nonsmoking room whenever his family went on vacation, and that his father would stay with him to to help him cope with his headaches."This usually meant that I got the nicest room, and it also ensured that dad was my roommate. I couldn't have seen it at the time, but having asthma was like hitting the jackpot for a child who craved his father's love and attention."

He also spoke of how Ted would finds ways around the rules to allow his young son on a racing boat. "My dad, of course, dug around until he found a rule around the rule. Sound familiar to you, those who served with him in the Senate?" he said.

"My dad found that rule that meshed with his mission: He refused to leave me behind. He did that for all those around the world who needed a special voice as well."

The invitation-only funeral audience of world leaders and commoners alike evoked the funerals for Kennedy's brothers. It was at RFK's rites in 1968 that the senator not only emerged as family patriarch, but also the person to deliver the final word on lives cut short.

He memorialized Robert Kennedy by saying, "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."

And in 1999, after his nephew John Jr.'s death, the senator declared: "We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like his father, he had every gift but length of years."

Following the service, Kennedy's body was being flown to Andrews Air Force Base, which also received JFK's body after his 1963 assassination, before being driven to the U.S. Capitol then along the National Mall and into Arlington Cemetery.

There, as evening falls, he was to be buried on a hillside grave site near his two slain brothers.

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