Vicki Kennedy says her late husband never saw a completed copy of his memoir, but Sen. Edward M. Kennedy knew it by heart because "we had read the entire book aloud to each other."
Continuing her public re-emergence after the senator's death, Vicki Kennedy told a crowd at the John F. Kennedy Library on Thursday that "True Compass" arrived at their Cape Cod home on Aug. 25. Edward Kennedy died late that evening of brain cancer.
"He didn't have a chance to see it in final book form, but he knew every word," said his widow. "We had read the entire book aloud to each other."
The book was released to the public in September and is based on contemporaneous notes the liberal Democrat kept for more than 50 years. It contains his reflections on current events, meetings with world leaders and his famous political family and was propelled by an oral history project he began about five years ago.
The writing took on heightened urgency after he suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in May 2008.
"Ted was well into the project when he became ill, but he was determined to continue," Vicki Kennedy said. "So many others had written their version of Ted's story, and he wanted to tell it as only he could."
She added that her husband "wanted to get it right for history."
Vicki Kennedy turned down a chance to compete for her late husband's seat, which will be filled through party primaries on Tuesday and a special election Jan. 19. She largely remained in seclusion until last week, when she appeared in a pre-Thanksgiving interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
Earlier Thursday, she also spoke in Worcester, the state's second-largest city, at a memorial service for six firefighters killed in a warehouse blaze 10 years ago.
She used her remarks to thank first responders in the Cape Cod community of Barnstable for their quick response when her husband was first stricken.
"Thanks to them, Ted received the care he needed and had 15 more happy and productive months before he was finally called home," she said.
She also recalled her husband addressing a memorial service for the Worcester firefighters a decade ago.
"At the ceremony, Ted provided comfort as only he could _ as one who had known unimaginable, almost unbearable loss in the name of service to country," she said.
Vicki Kennedy spoke in the same room at the Kennedy library where her husband's body lay in repose and where thousands filed by to pay their respects. The conversation about the memoir was the first chance for many Kennedy acolytes to reunite since his funeral Mass, and they laughed and greeted one another with hugs.
A star-studded panel that discussed the memoir attested to the senator's clout. It featured historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and journalists Mike Barnicle and E.J. Dionne Jr.
"It's an unusual memoir because of its openness," said Goodwin.
Added Beschloss: "This is a guy who knew the people around Winston Churchill and he knew Barack Obama. I mean, that's a pretty large slice of world history."