And every major education law passed since the 1960s bears Kennedy's imprint, according to the National Education Assn., which gave Kennedy its highest award in 2000.
Through sheer energy and willingness to focus, Kennedy could challenge presidents and galvanize legislators of both parties around a given issue.
Following in the footsteps of his brother Robert, he was an early opponent of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. In the 1970s, he criticized Carter's energy policy. In 1987, he was central to the defeat of Reagan's nomination of conservative Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court, delivering a powerful denunciation of the president's choice on the Senate floor. He also fought Reagan over cuts to social programs and, in 1989, Kennedy denounced President George H.W. Bush's incursion into Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega.
In 1993, Kennedy worked with newly elected President Bill Clinton to gain passage of a bill to allow employees to take time off from their jobs to care for a newborn child or deal with a family illness. And in 2001, he teamed with newly elected President George W. Bush to gain passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation to strengthen educational standards through increased testing and other federal incentives to local school districts.
No matter if the Democrats were in the majority or the minority, Kennedy remained activist and outspoken, sometimes berating the GOP for not addressing social issues.
Once asked what his best quality was as a legislator, he answered: "Persistence."
"He deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in [the Senate's] history," New York Times reporter Adam Clymer wrote in his 1999 biography of Kennedy.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the conservative Utah Republican who once described some of Kennedy's legislation as "socialism in embryo," said on the occasion of Kennedy's 70th birthday celebration in 2002 that one of the reasons he had originally run for office was to get Kennedy out of office.
"As the past 26 years have amply indicated, I have failed, and I have come to appreciate that the country is better for it," said Hatch, who over the years found common ground with Kennedy on education and health issues and even co-sponsored a bill to allow the creation of cloned embryos to provide stem cells under strict federal oversight.
Edward Moore Kennedy was born Feb. 22, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., to great wealth and even greater expectations. The youngest of nine children, he was the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a self-made millionaire who descended from Irish immigrants and rose to become the U.S. ambassador to Britain. Ted's mother, Rose, was the daughter of John F. "Honey" Fitzgerald, a former Boston mayor.
Though Kennedy's life was privileged, it was filled with tragedy almost from the beginning. When he was 12, his brother Joe Jr., a Navy pilot, was shot down over England during World War II. When he was 16, one of his sisters, Kathleen, died in a plane crash. Earlier, when he was 9, his mentally retarded sister Rosemary was sent to an institution; she died in 2005.
Kennedy went to Harvard University but as a freshman was expelled after having a friend take a Spanish exam for him.
This early indication of "blurred judgment," Kennedy biographer Max Lerner wrote in 1980, set a pattern of "confusion, blunder, remorse, expiation, rebuilding, that was to be repeated on a larger canvas." Significantly, Kennedy's father was able to suppress the story from the newspapers until Ted ran for the Senate 11 years later.
After being expelled from Harvard, Kennedy enlisted in the Army, rising to private first class and winning an honorable discharge in 1953. He was accepted back at Harvard and graduated in 1956. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia three years later.
Kennedy plunged into politics almost immediately, serving as campaign director for the Rocky Mountain states in John Kennedy's 1960 drive for the presidency.
He then took a job as assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, Mass., and, in 1962, he ran against a prominent Democrat, state Atty. Gen. Edward McCormack, for the unexpired Senate term vacated when JFK won the presidency.
The campaign gave the younger Kennedy his first brush with political hardball: McCormack, a veteran politician and nephew of House Speaker John W. McCormack, portrayed his challenger as a lightweight who was trading on his family name.
"If your name was [merely] Edward Moore [instead of Edward Moore Kennedy], your candidacy would be a joke," McCormack told him during a debate.