BOSTON - President Barack Obama hailed Senator Edward Kennedy as the greatest legislator of our time at the funeral on Saturday of the towering politician and patriarch of the pre-eminent American political dynasty.

Former presidents, senators and representatives of both political parties joined the large Irish-American Kennedy clan for the funeral Mass at a Roman Catholic basilica.

Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard, Obama said in the eulogy at the funeral attended by members of the U.S. political elite.

Dozens of lawmakers from the last several decades -- many of whom had been Kennedy's fiercest foes on legislation -- attended the traditional Catholic funeral Mass in the stone, 130-year-old Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica.

Mourners from Hollywood star Jack Nicholson to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer packed the church beneath soaring arches and stained glass.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played and opera star Placido Domingo sang as the sound of rain could be heard pounding the roof. Readings came from several generations of Kennedys.

Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton sat at the front with their wives.

Since Kennedy's death on Tuesday of brain cancer at age 77, Americans have staged a series of memorials to the last of the Kennedy brothers, and his death has been treated like the passing of a president.

Obama called Kennedy the soul of the Democratic Party and the lion of the U.S. Senate who had authored more than three hundred laws.

He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect, a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots, Obama said.

And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time.

Obama remembered his legislative achievements including the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children's health care and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Kennedy's casket was to be flown to Washington after the funeral and taken to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried close to his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, who were assassinated in the 1960s.


Edward Kennedy's early career was overshadowed by the lives and deaths of John and Robert, but he went on to serve nearly 47 years in the Senate, where he became a champion of liberal Democrats and was both reviled and respected by conservative Republicans.

Police said about 50,000 people came out to pay respects over the past two days.
Where would I be as a black man without the Kennedys? They believe in civil rights and that's why I am here to honor this great man, said Clint Haymon, one of hundreds of mourners gathered outside the church despite the rain.

We had to come here. He committed a lot of his time to causes we believe in, said Douglas Geer, 43, of Walpole, Massachusetts, the father of an autistic child. Our child benefited from his work.

Kennedy chose Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica because it was where he prayed daily while his daughter Kara, now 49, was at nearby hospital battling lung cancer in 2003.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Ross Colvin; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing Anthony Boadle)