Though I knew that Senator Kennedy was very ill, it was still something of a shock to wake up and see the stark headlines everywhere pronouncing that he was actually dead. The demise of such a significant figure in public life is never easy to accept. Seeing his constant images daily gives a false impression of knowing him personally. His life spanned most of my lifetime and I experienced first hand his early triumphs and tragedies when I was a teenager. With that kind of panoramic view, one gets a better picture of the whole person than simply judging him on any one section of his existence.
People in Britain, like everywhere else, have always been fascinated by the Kennedys. They were compared to a royal family that the Americans never had, even though Edward Kennedy's name was forever linked with Chappaquidick island and what happened on that fateful night. In fact, the love-hate relationship with Sen. Kennedy came to light in March this year when the Queen awarded a knighthood to him, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Gordon Brown,"for services to the British-American relationship and to Northern Ireland".
Many Opposition Tory lawmakers and Peers condemned the award as 'inappropriate' because of his past sympathies for the Irish Republican movement. They felt that he did not deserve to be called 'Sir Edward' in view of that. Others felt greater unease about honouring a person who was involved in the questionable death of someone else.
But the man and his personality won through because, despite the protests, his knighthood was accepted by most people who felt that his tireless energy and personal achievements made him worthy. It seemed that the Senator had been making up for that tragic event for the rest of his life the way he threw himself into community issues and became one of the most prolific legislators of his time. As the Daily News said, his legislative work 'touched the lives of every American family' - and that had to be some legacy to leave behind. He might have been the youngest child in his family who wasn't expected to deliver much but, like the tortoise and the hare, he slowly came from behind to outshine all his siblings and make his own unmistakable mark on American history.
One feels that, with his passing, the link to the Camelot days of John F Kennedy is finally broken. His death has ushered in the end of a particular era and the beginning of a new one. The ghost of Mary Jo Kopechne, too, can also find peace.
However, in the spirit of life's evolution, it's not where we start but where we actually finish that matters. Senator Edward Kennedy might have had some faltering starts, and did something ungallant when he was much younger, but he has spent the past 40 years since then atoning for that tragedy with the prolific legislation he has enabled for the American public. In his own quiet way, he has risen above it all to leave an indelible legacy which will benefit generations to come - the mark of a true hero.
Like him or not, Sen. Kennedy was a giant of his time. One of a kind who enjoyed his power and put his privileged name to good use on behalf of others. It was his fate to live a long life and achieve great things and he did not disappoint in that regard. He certainly did it justice. One can only admire his tenacity, fortitude, people skills and sheer determination to overcome his weaknesses. Perhaps the one thing he has taught us with his flawed life is that none of us is perfect and our time would be better served focusing on the goodness in others than harping on what might be wrong with them.
When he lost to President Carter in 1976, Sen. Kennedy made a rousing speech at the Democratic Convention of that year and one particular statement will forever stamp his own attitude to his work. He said:
"It is the glory and greatness of our tradition to speak for those who have no voice, to remember those who are forgotten, to respond to the frustrations and fulfill the aspirations of all Americans seeking a better life in a better land".
No one can say that Edward Moore Kennedy has not fulfilled that tradition, one hundred-fold.
Rest in Peace, Sir Edward, our American knight. My condolences to Lady Kennedy and the rest of your family from across the Pond.