Shriver Remembered For Her Commitment To Service

Eunice Kennedy Shriver is swims with youngsters at a camp for mentally challenged kids in 1964. i i

Eunice Kennedy Shriver swims with youngsters at a day camp for mentally challenged children in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park in August 1964. AP hide caption

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver is swims with youngsters at a camp for mentally challenged kids in 1964.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver swims with youngsters at a day camp for mentally challenged children in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park in August 1964.

AP

Politicians, humanitarians and family members paid tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the woman who was the driving force behind the Special Olympics and who President Obama lauded as "extraordinary" for her long commitment to the rights of the mentally disabled.

Shriver, who died early Tuesday in Hyannis, Mass., "transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe," her family said in a statement. A member of one of the nation's most storied political families, Shriver was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy, and the mother of former NBC newswoman Maria Shriver. Her husband, Sargent Shriver, became the first director of the Peace Corps and was George McGovern's vice-presidential running mate in 1972.

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics, died Tuesday at the age of 88.  Here, she sits at her desk at the Justice Department on March 22, 1948.
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    Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics, died Tuesday at the age of 88. Here, she sits at her desk at the Justice Department on March 22, 1948.
    AP
  • She was the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy, and the fifth and middle child in the Kennedy family. Here, Rose Kennedy and her children, circa 1922. L-R: Rose Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy (seated in foreground), John F. Kennedy, and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.
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    She was the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy, and the fifth and middle child in the Kennedy family. Here, Rose Kennedy and her children, circa 1922. L-R: Rose Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, Kathleen Kennedy, Rosemary Kennedy (seated in foreground), John F. Kennedy, and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.
    Courtesy of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
  • Shriver, second from left, said she developed an interest in mental disabilities because she was close to her older sister Rosemary. Rosemary, second from right, was born with mild retardation.Here, the Kennedy children attend the coronation of Pope Pius XII in Rome, Italy in 1939.
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    Shriver, second from left, said she developed an interest in mental disabilities because she was close to her older sister Rosemary. Rosemary, second from right, was born with mild retardation.Here, the Kennedy children attend the coronation of Pope Pius XII in Rome, Italy in 1939.
    AP
  • Mrs. Robert Sargent Shriver, the former Eunice Mary Kennedy, left, and her father, former Amb. Joseph P. Kennedy, dance at the reception following her marriage to Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. of Chicago, on May 23, 1953 in New York.
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    Mrs. Robert Sargent Shriver, the former Eunice Mary Kennedy, left, and her father, former Amb. Joseph P. Kennedy, dance at the reception following her marriage to Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. of Chicago, on May 23, 1953 in New York.
    John Rooney/AP
  • Shriver around 1960. History professor Edward Shorter, author of The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation,  says the only thing that kept Shriver from running for political office was the era she grew up in.
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    Shriver around 1960. History professor Edward Shorter, author of The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation, says the only thing that kept Shriver from running for political office was the era she grew up in.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Shriver stands before the grave of her brother, President John F. Kennedy, on Nov. 22, 1965, the second anniversary of his assassination.
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    Shriver stands before the grave of her brother, President John F. Kennedy, on Nov. 22, 1965, the second anniversary of his assassination.
    AP
  • Shriver dedicated her life to improving the lives of mentally challenged children. Here she swims at a camp in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
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    Shriver dedicated her life to improving the lives of mentally challenged children. Here she swims at a camp in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.
    AP
  • Shriver with athletes at the first Special Olympics in 1968.
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    Shriver with athletes at the first Special Olympics in 1968.
    Courtesy of Special Olympics
  • Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps,  and his wife watch a satirical presentation on their lives by the staff of the Office of Economic Opportunity on April 24, 1968.
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    Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, and his wife watch a satirical presentation on their lives by the staff of the Office of Economic Opportunity on April 24, 1968.
    AP Photo/Charles Harrity, File
  • Shriver encourages Special Olympian Karen Fosdick on her way to a gold medal in 1983.
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    Shriver encourages Special Olympian Karen Fosdick on her way to a gold medal in 1983.
    John Dominis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver stands with brother Ted Kennedy and one of Shriver's grandchildren on a boat in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Aug. 5, 1990.
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    Eunice Kennedy Shriver stands with brother Ted Kennedy and one of Shriver's grandchildren on a boat in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Aug. 5, 1990.
    Stephen Rose/Liaison via Getty Images
  • Shriver attends a ceremony honoring the Special Olympics at the White House on July 10, 2006.
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    Shriver attends a ceremony honoring the Special Olympics at the White House on July 10, 2006.
    Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images
  • Shriver appears with her son-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and daughter Maria Shriver, as well as Rachel Murph and Frederick Murph, pastor of Brookings Community AME Church in Los Angeles on Nov. 5, 2006.
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    Shriver appears with her son-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and daughter Maria Shriver, as well as Rachel Murph and Frederick Murph, pastor of Brookings Community AME Church in Los Angeles on Nov. 5, 2006.
    Branimir Kvartuc/AP
  • Shriver hugs a gymnast competing at the most recent World Summer Games, held in Shanghai in 2007. The next Summer Games will take place in 2011 in Athens.
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    Shriver hugs a gymnast competing at the most recent World Summer Games, held in Shanghai in 2007. The next Summer Games will take place in 2011 in Athens.
    Courtesy of Special Olympics
  • Shriver celebrates her birthday at her home in Potomac, Md., on July 9, 2006, surrounded by her five children, Bobby, Maria, Anthony, Timothy and Mark, and husband, Sargent Shriver.
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    Shriver celebrates her birthday at her home in Potomac, Md., on July 9, 2006, surrounded by her five children, Bobby, Maria, Anthony, Timothy and Mark, and husband, Sargent Shriver.
    Courtesy of Special Olympics

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In a White House statement, Obama called her "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."

Those words were echoed by Vice President Biden, who called her "one of those rare individuals whose energy and spirit were contagious."

"She inspired everyone around her to be better, to see beyond themselves, and to experience joy in life through service," Biden said.

As celebrity, social worker and activist, Shriver was credited with transforming America's view of the mentally disabled from institutionalized patients to friends, neighbors and athletes. Her efforts were inspired in part by the struggles of her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary.

"We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit," her family said in the statement.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Maria Shriver, said his mother-in-law "changed my life by raising such a fantastic daughter, and by putting me on the path to service, starting with drafting me as a coach for the Special Olympics."

Eunice Shriver convened the first Special Olympics Games in 1968, just seven weeks after Robert Kennedy was slain on the presidential campaign trail. The two-day event drew more than 1,000 participants from 26 states and Canada.

Kevin Turner, the former director of the Special Olympics on Cape Cod, told NPR that Shriver's work helped change how disabled children are educated. "If it wasn't for people like Mrs. Shriver, we would not be in as good as place as we are right now," he said.

Edward Kennedy, her only living brother, said, "She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us — much is expected of those to whom much has been given. Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough."

The roots of the Special Olympics go back to a summer camp Shriver ran in Maryland in 1963. Shriver would "get right in the pool with the kids; she'd toss the ball," said a niece, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who volunteered at the camp as a teen. "It's that hands-on, gritty approach that awakened her to the kids' needs."

Special Olympics President Brady Lum praised Shriver, calling on people to "celebrate the life of a woman who had the vision to create our movement."

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said Shriver's death is "a huge loss for all of us."

"I vividly remember when Ronnie presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 1984," the former first lady said. "He said then that 'her decency and goodness have touched the lives of many, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver deserves America's praise, gratitude and love.'"

With Eunice Shriver's death, Jean Kennedy Smith becomes the last surviving Kennedy daughter.

From NPR staff and wire reports.

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