President Obama broke from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to go before the cameras early Wednesday. Calling Ted Kennedy' “Teddy,” the president described the senator as a “singular figure in American history” and as “a counselor, a colleague and a friend.”
He said of the death Tuesday of Kennedy at 77, "We've awaited it with no small amount of dread.”
“Since Teddy's diagnosis last year, we've seen the courage with which he battled his illness,” Obama said. “And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they've also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye.”
“At times,” the President added, "Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle.”
California Gov. Arnold Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife Maria, was the senator’s niece, said in a statement: "Maria and I are immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy. He was known to the world as the Lion of the Senate, a champion of social justice, and a political icon."
“Teddy," he added, "inspired our country through his dedication to health care reform, his commitment to social justice, and his devotion to a life of public service.
“I have personally benefitted and grown from his experience and advice, and I know countless others have as well.
“Teddy taught us all that public service isn’t a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life and his legacy will live on.”
There was little surprise, but still shock in Washington this morning at the death of Kennedy, where the first mark of its official recognition was the changing of the senator’s website.
Sometime shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday Washington time, the normally colorful site of was replaced with a single toned one with the statement from the Senator’s family.
“Edward M. Kennedy -- the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply -- died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” it said.
“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.
“We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. 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.”
For official Washington, the death was still sad, especially coming in the midst of a debate on changes in health care. The senator had fought for years to achieve changes and headed the main Senate committee debating them.
Elected to the Senate to fill the seat his brother had vacated to become president in 1962, Sen. Kennedy may have been repeatedly targeted by ideologues as the liberal’s lion and seen by some who remember John F. Kennedy’s era as a last link to Camelot, but in Washington he was an seen mostly as an example of the old style in the Senate, where Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass legislation and didn’t just attack each other.
It was Kennedy’s decision to help President George Bush pass the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan that resulted in the legislation getting enough Democratic votes for the bill to get enacted.
The comments today came from both sides.
“It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy. He was a friend, the model of public service and an American icon,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement.
“Because of Ted Kennedy, more young children could afford to become healthy. More young adults could afford to become students. More of our oldest citizens and our poorest citizens could get the care they need to live longer, fuller lives. More minorities, women and immigrants could realize the rights our founding documents promised them. And more Americans could be proud of their country."
“The Liberal Lion’s mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die,” he added.
The Weinstein Company's Harvey Weinstein was among those in the entertainment industry paying tribute to Kennedy.
"When Bob and I received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial," he said, "Sen. Kennedy was there to present it to us with Ethel. His hearty Irish laugh, brilliant command of politics, indefatigable tenacity and fight for the underdog were incredibly impressive."
Weinstein added that he "saw him six or seven other times, and always enjoyed his company and always admired his astonishing dedication to the common good."
Also among those commenting was Dan Glickman, chairman-CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.
“Ted Kennedy was a titan not only to his family but also for this country he so loved,” said Glickman said in a statement. “I had an opportunity to know him and learn from him not only during my years serving in Congress, but also during my service as the director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
“Ted was the driving force behind this institution which embodied his family’s devotion to public service and his quest to inspire young people to serve in politics. Ted accomplished so much in his career because he was driven by his passion for justice for every citizen. He frequently found allies for his causes with some of his most ideologically opposite colleagues, yet he never compromised his ideals or his values.
“Ted famously said that ‘Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control.’ As our country continues to face difficult challenges, the leadership and bipartisanship that Senator Kennedy personified will be surely missed. Yet, his passion for doing the right thing and effecting positive change to create a better future will serve as a beacon for our leaders.”
AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon expressed her grief over Kennedy's passing: "From his final days in the United States Senate as the driving force behind the Employee Free Choice Act and meaningful health care reform to his lifelong career fighting for civil, disability, women's and workers' rights, Sen. Edward Kennedy shared AFTRA members' vision of an inclusive and democratic America that works for everyone and celebrates diversity as the true path toward unity and strength."
Reardon continued by saying "[Kennedy] was a lion who fought throughout his life for the rights and dignity of America's working men and women.
"His passing is a loss for AFTRA, for labor and for America," she said. "We extend our deepest condolences to the Kennedy family, and we will miss him dearly."
Kennedy's office website this afternoon began referring viewers to tedkennedy.org. Posted there are comments from prime ministers, heads of state, fellow legislators and health association executives who had worked with the senator.
Kennedy is to be buried close to his brothers John and Robert at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral service Saturday in Boston.
His memoir, "True Compass," will be released Sept. 14 with an announced first printing of 1.5 million copies. The book deal was announced in May 2998, just months after his book deal was announced.