R. Sargent Shriver at a Senate hearing in 1965.
R. Sargent Shriver at a Senate hearing in 1965. Henry Griffin/AP
Former Peace Corps Director and vice presidential nominee R. Sargent Shriver has died. He was 95.
Shriver exemplified the optimism of early 1960s Washington. He was asked by President John F. Kennedy, his brother-in-law, to help set up the Peace Corps, the agency that sent idealistic Americans to developing countries at the height of the Cold War.
President Johnson also tapped Shriver to head his War on Poverty.
"I was deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Sargent Shriver, one of the brightest lights of the greatest generation," President Obama said in a statement. "Over the course of his long and distinguished career, Sarge came to embody the idea of public service."
Former NPR president and Peace Corps official Frank Mankiewicz, who worked closely with Shriver, paid tribute to his friend in an interview with All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.
"I'll be surprised if there's anyone who served as a Peace Corps volunteer or a staff member, either, for that matter from ... 1961 to 1965 who isn't grieving today and who didn't see Sarge as a kind of an embodiment of the idealism that created the Peace Corps," Mankiewicz said.
In a 1995 interview with NPR's Fresh Air, Shriver rejected later criticism of the era's anti-poverty programs.
"Most people in our country don't like handouts, that is, where people get something for nothing, and I don't blame 'em," he said. "I feel exactly the same way."
Shriver said the social programs created during that era never had enough money to achieve their goals. Still, he cared deeply about the mission.
"The larger the number of people who are poor, and for that reason either feel left out or are, that is a cancer inside of our social system," he said in the interview.
Shriver later ran for vice president on the ticket of George McGovern in 1972 after McGovern's running mate, Thomas Eagleton, dropped out of the race because of questions about his medical history.
"I think he felt that there was a civic obligation at that point," said Mankiewicz, who was McGovern's campaign manager at the time.
The World War II veteran was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
In 2003, Shriver announced that he had Alzheimer's disease. His wife, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died in 2009.