BOSTON - After the Boston Red Sox's 86-year span without a World Series championship, perhaps the most familiar streak in Massachusetts is the half-century that a Kennedy has represented the state in the U.S. Senate.
Now, the news that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has a cancerous brain tumor is forcing people to contemplate the day when he will no longer be there.
'It's almost incalculable,' said Thaleia Schlesinger, whose brother, former Sen. Paul Tsongas, toiled in Kennedy's oversize shadow before resigning in 1984 to cope with cancer that eventually killed him in 1997. 'He's the go-to guy over and over again. You just look at the universities, the hospitals, the high-tech industry, education, never mind health care. He's always been there.'
Immigrants lining up at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, tourists strolling on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway and ordinary folks who received handwritten thank-you notes from the senator or a surprise distinguished visitor at a family wake pondered a future without Ted Kennedy.
'Forty-six years is a long time to be a senator. That's got to count for something when it comes to delivering for the state,' said Ron Mills, who runs the shoeshine stand next to 122 Bowdoin St., the Beacon Hill address John F. Kennedy claimed when he served in the House and Senate and was elected president in 1960.
JFK served in the Senate from 1953 to 1960. Then Kennedy family friend Benjamin Smith warmed the Senate seat for two years until Ted Kennedy reached the minimum age of 30 specified in the Constitution. His Senate career is now the third-longest in the chamber's history.
Brian Hart of Bedford first met Kennedy in November 2003 at Arlington National Cemetery, when the senator attended the funeral of Hart's son, John, a soldier killed in Iraq. He recalled Wednesday how the senator listened to his story about soldiers and their vehicles lacking proper armor. Kennedy followed up by calling a hearing later that month.
Today, every military vehicle in Iraq is armored. And within six months of Kennedy's hearing, all U.S. soldiers had been issued ballistic plates for their body armor.
'He's a wonderful guy. Literally hundreds of people are alive because of his work and literally hundreds were not wounded because of his work,' Hart said.
The 76-year-old Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant glioma, an especially lethal type of brain tumor. Most such patients die within three years, sooner if they are older.
On Wednesday, Kennedy was released from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and returned to the family compound at Hyannis Port to await test results that will help determine his treatment, which is expected to include chemotherapy and radiation.
Kennedy gave a thumbs-up to well-wishers and kisses to relatives as he walked out of the hospital. A square bandage on the back of his head marked the spot where doctors performed a biopsy on the brain tumor.
Kennedy's dogs, Sunny and Splash, met him at the hospital door.