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Remembering Ted Kennedy's greatest speech: the eulogy for brother Robert

August 26, 2009 |  9:46 am

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was long known as an eloquent speaker, and his death reminds us that what was arguably his greatest oration was a eulogy — the tribute he delivered following the assassination of his brother Robert F. Kennedy.

The eulogy, delivered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on June 8, 1968, is considered a masterpiece of rhetoric, and it often shows up on lists ranking the greatest American speeches. It has appeared in anthologies. It has been taught in schools.

At times, with its graceful rhythms, the eulogy feels more like poetry than prose: “He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He was always by our side.”

Kennedy reads from works by his brother, including an entire speech Robert Kennedy delivered to young people in South Africa in 1966. Kennedy, who was 36 at the time, also quotes what Robert Kennedy once wrote about their own father. The words seem appropriate now:

“Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor...

... and who needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”

The eulogy derives its power not just from the tragic circumstances but also from Kennedy’s dignified and loving delivery. Listen as he reads, “Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.” His voice shakes, almost unbearably, on “his rest today” — a nation’s sorrow in three tremulous words.

The video above contains an abbreviated version of the eulogy. To read and listen to the complete address, follow this link to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

--- Steve Padilla

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