President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to an ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), celebrating his accomplishments of more than four decades.“The life of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has made a difference for us all,— Obama said during an East Room ceremony at which Kennedy and 15 others were honored with what is, along with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award for civilians in the United States.But Kennedy, 77, who is battling brain cancer, was unable to attend. His daughter Kara accepted the award in his place.Kennedy “has boldly fought for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans,— states the citation for Kennedy’s award, which was read during the ceremony. “In his tireless quest for a more perfect Union, Senator Kennedy has reformed our schools, strengthened our civil rights, helped seniors and working families, lifted up the poor, and worked to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable health care,— the citation states. “With volumes of laws bearing his name and countless lives touched by his extraordinary passion, Senator Kennedy has accumulated several lifetimes’ worth of achievements. The United States proudly recognizes this righteous citizen, devout public servant, and giant among men.—Kennedy has been out of the public eye for some time, most recently missing the Senate’s confirmation vote of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also has been absent from the Senate debate over health care reform, which he deemed “the cause of my life— in a recent Newsweek article. Obama also awarded a Medal of Freedom to the late Rep. Jack Kemp (N.Y.), the longtime conservative leader and 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate. The ceremony appeared to downplay Kemp’s longtime association with the GOP and the conservative movement. Obama commended Kemp for “a life from which we can all draw lessons, Republican and Democrat alike.— The citation read at the ceremony stated that Kemp “placed country before party, and ideas before ideology.— Kemp’s wife, Joanne, accepted the award.