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Kennedy Funeral: A Final Farewell

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. - The passing of a political era from one generation to another will be complete this weekend when Sen. Edward Kennedy is eulogized by the man he helped elect president.

President Obama plans to leave Martha's Vineyard tonight for Boston. He will be the only non-family member to speak at Saturday's funeral Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. Kennedy, 77, succumbed to brain cancer late Tuesday.

The president was working on his speech Thursday between vacation excursions with his family. "This is going to be a very personal statement," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. Kennedy, he said, "was a giant to the United States but also in President Obama's life."

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the eulogy "will be much more about Ted Kennedy the man, and the warm and loving human being. . . . The president was so fond of him as a person."

Kennedy had a big impact on Obama's meteoric political career, taking him under his wing in 2005 and counseling him in the rear of the Senate chamber. "Obama was pressing Kennedy for lessons on how to operate," recalls Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Kennedy's endorsement of Obama's long-shot presidential candidacy exactly 19 months ago "was a passing of the torch of leadership," Axelrod said. It helped Obama overcome Hillary Rodham Clinton, the favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

The endorsement was "immeasurable in some ways," Burton said, because it provided a timely "cannon burst for the campaign."

The relationship extended to their personal lives in ways that will endure: Bo, the Obamas' Portuguese water dog, was a gift from Kennedy four months ago. In July, Obama delivered a letter from Kennedy to Pope Benedict XVI.

Three days of mourning for the senator began Thursday with a private Mass for family members at their Hyannis Port compound. Kennedy's flag-draped casket was driven past thousands of spectators on a 70-mile sojourn to Boston for two days of public viewing and a memorial service tonight at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

At least 40 senators will attend the funeral. Former presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter also have said they will be there.

That will be followed by a flight to Virginia, where Kennedy will be buried next to his slain brothers, John and Robert, at Arlington National Cemetery.

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