Ted Kennedy — The Last Brother

Ted Kennedy: The Last Brother
The nation marks the end of a historic era in American politics and an unprecedented family dynasty. Sen. Edward Kennedy is dead at the age of 77.

His family's story is our nation's history. But unlike his brothers, Sen. Edward Kennedy had the gift of years - a life of triumph and tragedy. The public face of the private man. This is Ted Kennedy's story - in his own words and from the people closest to him and from the CBS News correspondents who covered him.

Origins Of A Legend

Ted Kennedy was widely considered the most influential senator of our generation.

He grew up in a family of wealth and privilege, but he championed the causes of ordinary Americans, earning him the title "Lion of the Senate."

"He was unique. You couldn't compare him to anybody. Even the way he would get up there and give a speech, I mean he just basically shouted. Well who could pull that off?" says "60 Minutes" and CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, who followed the senator around Capitol Hill for a report in 1998.

The Senate was Kennedy's home for the last 47 years, and where he cast, by his own count, over 14,000 votes.

If you followed the senator around Capitol Hill, as Stahl did, you saw what made him such an effective advocate. "These are good jobs with good wages, good benefits, good opportunities, and they ought to be American," he said in one meeting.

He was a favorite among colleagues and visitors alike.

"For him, it was his clubhouse. And he was the leader in the clubhouse; even when the Republicans were in control he was the guy who was pushing his agenda," Stahl said.

In the Senate, Kennedy had a couple of offices. Both, according to Stahl, were almost shrines to his legendary family.

A Tour of Kennedy's Office
Senate Icon

"Over here is one of my wonderful mementos of President Kennedy and his PT boat 109 and these are his dog tags," Sen. Kennedy pointed out, while giving Stahl a tour of his office.

Kennedy also showed Stahl a framed hand-written note from his brother Jack from Choate School. The letter, written when Ted was born, read:

"Dear Mother, It's the night before exams so I will write you Wednesday. Lots of love. Can I be godfather to the baby?"

Kennedy grew up along the beaches of Hyannis, Mass. The youngest of nine children, he was doted on by his parents and siblings.

"I can remember being in a large, boisterous, wonderful, warm and loving family. And always having someone who just seemed a little bit older looking out after me from the first years a And teaching me how to swim and teaching me how to sail," Kennedy said in an interview.

Kennedy Remembers His Family
The Kennedys: Images from an American Dynasty

That included the oldest Kennedy brother, Joe, who was killed during World War II.

Sen. Kennedy took correspondent Gloria Borger back to the family compound on Cape Cod in 2000. "I always remember the water here. I think for all of the family I remember growing up as a child, I remember my brothers being teenagers really here," he told her.

"A day doesn't go by where I'm not thoughtful about them and don't miss them," Kennedy said of his brothers. "I mean, I do in a very, very real way and it's still very raw…occasions and very close to the surface."

Just months before this 2000 interview, Kennedy had suffered another devastating loss: his nephew John, wife Carolyn and her sister were killed in a plane crash in the waters off Martha's Vineyard.

JFK Jr. Remembered

It was still a tender subject for the senator. "Well, that was a very difficult time. We've had, you know, the difficult losses in the family. I remember the Friday night, the night actually that he was lost and we gathered at Ethel's house," he told Borger, choking up with emotion.

"Nobody was more amazing than Teddy. He was everywhere. He took care of everything. He really brought people together in an amazing way. And I think he just gave so much of himself," his niece, Caroline Kennedy, remembers. "And that's the thing about Teddy - that you just don't know where he keeps finding the strength to do that, but he really does."

That inner strength may have come from his prominent and wealthy Irish Catholic parents, Rose and Joseph Kennedy, who shaped young Ted and all the Kennedy children.

"My parents were very hopeful and they looked to the future. And they were optimists and they believed that individuals could make a difference," Sen. Kennedy remembered.

From an early age, the Kennedy brothers and sisters were encouraged to dedicate their lives to public service. "It's really the teachings of the Bible, which my mother read frequently, and that's 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' That's been an enduring sort of challenge for all of our lives," he explained.

"The Kennedy's are unique and unique in many ways, but particularly because it is in every way a political family," says former Kennedy aide John Siegenthaler. "I think he and Rose raised them to be politicians."

Kennedy reminisced about a favorite memory, his mother's ritual of playing the piano before suppertime. He even sang one of her favorite songs, "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," for Borger.

Rose's boys grew to men - Jack wed Jackie, Robert wed Ethel, and Ted married Joan.

The Brothers' Kennedy

Soon, the close-knit trio of powerful brothers won over the country.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic president; brother Robert was named attorney general.

And in 1962, at age 30, Ted Kennedy became one of the youngest senators in history.

It was the dawn of the age of Camelot.

"[It was] great fun. I was always close to my brothers. We had worked together on many different things. We saw a great deal of each other down here at the Cape," the senator remembered. "It was that kind of - that wonderful period of time. We had great, what I call, quality time."

But it wouldn't last.