Kennedy to Receive Honorary Knighthood From Queen Elizabeth II

The Washington Post | March 4, 2009
By Kevin Sullivan and Debbi Wilgoren

LONDON, March 4 -- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has been chosen to receive an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, the British Foreign Office said.

The honor was formally announced in Washington Wednesday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, during his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. With Vice President Biden and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) looking on from the podium, Brown praised Kennedy's role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland after generations of civil strife, and his decades of work to strengthen health care and education opportunities in the United States and around the globe.

"Northern Ireland today is at peace, more Americans have health care, children around the world are going to school," Brown said. "And for all these things, we owe a great debt to the life, and courage, of Senator Edward Kennedy."

Lawmakers rose to their feet to applaud.

Kennedy, 77, is battling brain cancer and was not in the House chamber for Brown's speech. The British premier said the two spoke by phone Tuesday night.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is one of the best-known American politicians in Britain, and the patriarch of the U.S. family that most closely resembles political royalty. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was the U.S. ambassador to Britain in the years leading up to World War II. Two of his older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated in 1963 and 1968, respectively.

Kennedy, who since his brothers' deaths has been the patriarch of the nation's leading liberal family, has served in the Senate since 1962, longer than any other current lawmaker except Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

He had surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor June 2. Experts have said that patients with his form of cancer often die within months of diagnosis, but surgery can help them survive for several years.

The senator gave a stirring address at the Democratic National Convention in August and attended President Obama's inauguration in January. But he had a seizure at a luncheon following the inaugural ceremony. Kennedy has stayed involved in legislative issues in recent months, including efforts to reform health care and improve mental health treatment options in the United States, but has mostly stayed out of public view.

Honorary knighthoods are generally given as recognition of achievement in various fields, from politics to sports. The vast majority of them go to British citizens. Kennedy joins a select group of Americans who have received the honor.

According to Buckingham Palace, fewer than 100 U.S. citizens have received honorary knighthoods since the queen took the throne in 1952. They have included former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks, Henry Kissinger, Bob Hope, Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates. Last month, the British Embassy announced that former senator John W. Warner (R-Va.), would be similarly honored.

Kennedy will not be able to officially use the title "Sir," according to a spokesman for Britain's Cabinet Office, which oversees the honors system. Brits who are knighted by the queen are entitled to that moniker, but people given honorary knighthoods are not, the spokesman said.

Such protocol details did not stop Brown from using the title informally Wednesday morning, extending greetings "on behalf of the British people" to "Sir Edward Kennedy" during his speech.

Wilgoren reported from Washington.