“The Greatest U.S. Senator of Our Time”

Friends, family show outpouring of emotion for Ted Kennedy

There was an outpouring of emotion for Sen. Ted Kennedy as family and friends of the late Senate lion -- from Capitol Hill to around the world -- warmly remembered "Uncle Teddy," the compassionate political icon and big-hearted family patriarch who lived a Camelot life rife with tragedy and triumph.

The Kennedy family remembered Ted as the family patriarch -- a deeply loved husband, father, grandfather and brother who was the "irreplaceable center" of the Kennedy clan and who brought "joyous light" to their lives.

"The inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," his family said in a statement this morning. 

"He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him."

President Barack Obama, who earned the early support of Kennedy in his presidential bid, said he and first lady Michelle were "heartbroken" to learn of the 77-year old's death. The president said he will miss Kennedy's "wise counsel."

"An important chapter in our history has come to an end," Obama said in a statement released as he was vacationing with his family in Martha's Vineyard.

"Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."

While the Clintons and Kennedy parted on unfriendly terms after the senator backed Obama in 2008 over Hillary, the couple still praised their fellow Democrat.  Hillary Rodham Clinton said that when she arrived in the Senate, "he was a generous mentor and a thoughtful colleague. We worked together to raise the minimum wage, improve education, and champion the cause we shared so deeply: ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. And as Secretary of State, I valued his counsel on how to make America a force for peace and progress around the world.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton said they "will always be grateful for the many gestures of kindness and generosity he extended to us, for the concern he showed for all the children and grandchildren of the Kennedy clan, and for his devotion to all those in need whose lives were better because he stood up for them."

Describing Kennedy as a "man of passion" whose hard-fought battles in the Senate are praiseworthy, former President George W. Bush said the long-time senator "never gave in" to self-pity or despair despite the significant hardships.

"He loved his family and his country -- and he served them until the end," Bush said. "He will be deeply missed." 

Sen. Chris Dodd praised Kennedy as a wonderful friend who was the "ultimate example" for those in public service, a "hero" for the unsung Americans for whom he desperately fought.

"That's why he stands among the most respected Senators in history," Dodd said. "But it was his sympathetic ear, his razor wit and his boom, raucous laugh that made him among the most beloved." 

Former President George H. W. Bush said he was "deeply saddened" to learn of Kennedy's death and that even though the two were not always political allies, he always had respect for the venerated senator's public service.

"Ted Kennedy was a seminal figure in the United States Senate -- a leader who answered the call to duty for some 47 years, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter in that body's history," Bush said. 

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Shriver, Kennedy's niece, will miss their beloved "Uncle Teddy" -- a man whose legacy inspired so many on health care reform and social justice -- and whose role in the Kennedy family is irreplaceable, the governor said in a statement. 

"He was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle," they said. "He was a man of great faith and character.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she was often "surprised" by how close she had been to the Kennedys -- but that she and her husband could "always find common ground" with the Kennedys and the two had a deep respect for one another.

"In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend," she said. "I will miss him."

Senator John Kerry said Kennedy was "simply the best" and there was no one better to have in your corner when times were tough.

"He taught us how to fight, how to laugh, how to treat each other and how to turn idealism into action," he said.

Condolences from both sides of the aisles poured in today, from key allies like Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- who praised the Liberal Lion for being a "great patriot" and his work on health care -- to Republican Orrin Hatch, who called him a "treasured friend." 

"Many have come before, and many will come after, but Ted Kennedy's name will always be remembered as someone who lived and breathed the United States Senate and the work completed within its chamber," Hatch said in a statement.

Political ally Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Kennedy as an "American icon" whose who a "model of public service" who was among the "greatest, the most devoted, the most patriotic" to be a member of the Senate. 

Former Gov. Mitt Romney said he was struck by Kennedy's "great personal kindness" and "fighting spirit" and said the "big-hearted" politician was the kind of person who ingratiated himself to you "even if he was your adversary." 

"I came to admire Ted enormously for his charm and sense of humor -- qualities all the more impressive in a man who had known so much loss and sorrow," Romney said. 

Former prime minister Tony Blair credited Kennedy with his "passionate commitment" to the Northern Ireland peace process. 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin offered condolences to the Kennedy family and said he "believed in our country and fought passionately for his convictions." 

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said Kennedy's legacy must not only be remembered but also built upon.

"No one can ever fill his shoes. But we can, and must, follow in his footsteps." 

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