Shriver Remembered For Her Commitment To Service Politicians, humanitarians and family members marked the passing of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, paying tribute to her as someone who inspired people "to see beyond themselves, and to experience joy in life through service."
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Shriver Remembered For Her Commitment To Service

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

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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.

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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