EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER
Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver, who used her stature and wealth as a member of the storied political dynasty to found the Special Olympics and fight for the disabled, died early yesterday morning at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis after a lengthy illness. She was 88.
The Special Olympics said that Shriver was with her husband, R. Sargent Shriver, 93, five children and 19 grandchildren at the time of her death.
“She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more,” a Shriver family statement said.
Her passing leaves U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, 77, and Jean Kennedy Smith, 81, as the last surviving siblings of the nine children born to the late Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Sen. Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, recalled how Shriver was inspired to found the Special Olympics by their sister, Rosemary, who was institutionalized through most of her life because of mental disability and a failed lobotomy.
“The seeds of compassion and hope she planted decades ago in her backyard summer camp were inspired by her love for our sister, Rosemary,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Over the years, she grew those seeds into a worldwide movement that has given persons with disabilities everywhere the opportunity to lead more productive and fulfilling lives.”
President Obama issued a statement extending his condolences.
“She will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation and our world that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit,” he said.
Shriver was born in Brookline on July 10, 1921, the fifth of nine Kennedy children. Her ambition was evident, even in games of touch football, the family’s favored pastime.
After graduating from Stanford University in 1943 with a bachelor of science in sociology, she helped former prisoners of war adjust to civilian life at the State Department’s Special War Problems Division. Shriver became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, W.Va., before moving to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court.
From January 1947 to June 1948, she worked as a special adviser on youth problems to the Justice Department. Her salary: $1 a year.
But it was her love for her sister Rosemary that led Shriver to the passion of her life: fighting for the mentally disabled.
“Rosemary could swim better than any of us,” she told the Sunday Herald in 1965. “These abilities kept her close to the family.”
Seven weeks after her younger brother Robert was assassinated in 1968, Shriver presided over the first-ever Special Olympics Games, when a paltry crowd of 100 showed up to watch 1,000 intellectually challenged athletes, a competition that grew out of Camp Shriver, a retreat at her home in Maryland.
Undeterred, Shriver predicted that some day, a million of the world’s disabled athletes would some day gather and compete. Today, at least 3 million athletes participate in the games’ 30 sporting events.
Her son, Timothy P. Shriver, chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, said yesterday that his mother possessed “relentless determination, passion (and) courage.”
“I challenge each of you to further my mother’s work and vision – reach out to a person with intellectual disabilities who every day is looking for hope, love and opportunity,” he said in a statement. “For as my mother said, ‘As we hope for the best in them, hope is reborn in us.’ ”
Shriver wrote passionately of her quest to stamp out societal prejudices against the intellectually challenged.
“They should and must be helped,” she wrote in an article for Parade Magazine in 1964. “We of the bright, real world must reach out our hands into the shadows, not with trembling emotion but with sure-footed, level-headed assistance,”
Shriver married R. Sargent Shriver in 1953. In him, she found a partner in service. He was the the first director of the Peace Corps and was a 1972 vice presidential candidate.
Fiercely loyal to her family, Shriver actively campaigned for the political careers of her siblings and husband, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
Guided by her Catholic faith, she was adamantly against abortion, advocating for more programs to aid teenage mothers. Colleges showered Shriver with honorary degrees, including Yale University, the College of the Holy Cross and Princeton University.
President Ronald Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, in 1984.
On May 9, a portrait of her was unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington – the first commissioned portrait of an individual who has not served as president or first lady.
Shriver is survived by her husband, R. Sargent Shriver; a daughter, Maria Owings Shriver, a television newscaster, and her husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; four sons, Robert Sargent Shriver III, Timothy Perry Shriver, Mark Kennedy Shriver and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver; a brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; a sister, Jean Kennedy Smith; her grandchildren and her nieces and nephews.
A public wake will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis at 10 a.m.Friday.