Whether helping provide children with health insurance or lifting
families out of poverty, the late Senator Edward Kennedy made it his
life work to aid the disadvantaged. Friends and colleagues of the
Massachusetts lawmaker, who died of brain cancer Wednesday at the age
of 77, say he had an impact that went beyond that of his famous
brothers, John and Robert.
"It is the glory and greatness of our tradition to speak for those that have no voice," said Kennedy.
As the third-longest serving senator in U.S. history, Edward Kennedy often stood up for the disadvantaged, sponsoring hundreds of pieces of legislation in his nearly half century in office, all with the hope of bettering people's lives. Kennedy biographer Adam Clymer notes his impact.
"If your parents of someone you know gets benefits from meals on wheels, that is Kennedy," he said. "They go to a neighborhood health center, that is Kennedy. He played a leading role in ending the [US military] draft. There has been no civil rights bill since he got to the Senate that he has not played a significant role."
Following the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy picked up the torch, helping to push forward the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination in public and at work illegal.
He went on to champion a number of other causes, including access to affordable health care, fair housing, and voting rights. Kennedy, whose son lost a leg to bone cancer, also worked to end discrimination against those with mental and physical handicaps, with the enactment of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
As president of the American Association of People With Disabilities, Andrew Imparato worked with Kennedy and his son.
"I think Senator Kennedy understood the idea that disability is a natural part of the human experience and that just because somebody has a disability, it does not mean they should not have the opportunities that other people have, so if you are talking about a child, they should have the opportunity to go to school with their peers," he said.
Senate associate historian Donald Ritchie says it was not just the number of issues Kennedy fought for, but how he fought for them. Ritchie says the senator was well-liked and able to build alliances with adversaries to push legislation forward.
"He figured out that okay, we can agree to disagree, but where is the one point where we do agree, where is the common ground, and that is what an effective legislators has to do, is look for the places where he can create national consensus around the issue," said Ritchie.
With Edward Kennedy's death late Tuesday from brain cancer, America's most famous political dynasty is left without an obvious heir. But longtime Kennedy friend Ted Sorensen says while Ted Kennedy's passing marks an end of an era, the family legacy will move forward.
"Ted Kennedy himself would have told you that the fulfillment of those Kennedy ideals is not dependent on one person, it is not even dependent on a Kennedy, it is dependent on all those who believe in that standard of opportunity and justice," said Sorensen.
In backing Barack Obama's presidential bid, Edward Kennedy looked to pass his message of hope to a new generation wanting change.