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Crowds mourn Kennedy outside basilica

By Christine Williams Pilot Correspondent
Posted: 9/4/2009

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Pedestrians hold signs reading “Kennedy Thanks” as the hearse containing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s body makes it’s way down Tremont Street to the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Aug. 26. Pilot photo/Patrick O’Connor

ROXBURY -- Signs with the message “Kennedy Thanks” dotted the crowd outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Roxbury before Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral Mass Aug. 29.

Red, white and blue with stars and stripes, these signs captured the sentiment of the hundreds of mourners gathered.

“I just wanted to hold this sign up and say, ‘Thank you,’ because he made a way for so many people,” said Nora Collins Patterson of Roxbury.

Patterson has lived in Boston for almost 40 years but remembers the Kennedy family being an important part of her childhood in Alabama.

“My father always talked about the Kennedys, growing up,” she said. “It was just like it was my family. This is my family.”

Patterson arrived outside the basilica at 7:30 a.m. -- three hours before the funeral was scheduled to begin -- to pay tribute to the man she believes made it possible for African- Americans to teach in Boston public schools. Because he opened the door, she served in the school system for 25 years, she said.

As she spoke about how much Kennedy will be missed, she welled up.

“Tears come to my eyes,” she said. “He’s in God’s hands now, and I know he will be alright.”

Like Patterson, hundreds of Kennedy’s constituents quietly gathered in the rain behind the barricades on Tremont Street. Many mourners huddled under umbrellas on the cold, wet morning -- a result of Tropical Storm Danny. A few watched from the windows of their homes.

One local business posted a sign that read, “Teddy, your service will live on.”

Thomas Collins of Boston said he too appreciates Kennedy’s service. The senator fought for voting rights, civil rights, universal health care and an end to the Vietnam War, he noted.

Collins, a Catholic, described himself as a “Massachusetts boy” and said it has been “a real thrill” to see the Kennedys, a Massachusetts Catholic family, serve in public office.

Sen. Kennedy was distinct. He had longevity as well as drama in his life. He was a political personality that “broke the mold,” Collins said.

“He had a really good run,” he said. “You won’t find too many more humans like this one.”

Collins saw Kennedy at various events over his 37 years as senator and said Kennedy was a rousing speaker.

He added about most politicians, “They really can’t talk. They’re really in the wrong business.”

As the rain began to fall more steadily, the motorcade drove down Tremont Street. One man played his trumpet while most waved and cheered. A woman called out, “God bless you all. God bless you.” With car windows down, many of the family and close friends of Kennedy waved back.

Doug Geer of Walpole said he and his family came to pay respects to the Kennedy family because Sen. Kennedy did so much for education, particularly that of children with special needs. Geer said he has a son with special needs, and when he had the opportunity to speak with Kennedy at an event, Kennedy paused to have a conversation with Geer.

“He stopped in a room full of dignitaries and talked to me,” he said.

Dave and Linda Zarnowski considered the event a family affair as well. From New Jersey, they were vacationing in Massachusetts when they heard Sen. Kennedy had died.

As a Catholic, Dave said he has admired the Kennedy family and in particular Sen. Kennedy for his work for the poor. Kennedy created jobs and raised the minimum wage, he said.

“There were things he did that we didn’t agree with,” Dave added, citing Kennedy’s support of abortion.

In addition to coming to the basilica Saturday, the Zarnowskis stood outside Faneuil Hall when the Kennedy motorcade came through Thursday and attended the wake at the John F. Kennedy Library Friday.

Dave said, “We wanted our children to be part of history.”