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Sargent Shriver: A Friend Remembers

Sargent Shriver Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

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In one of my first jobs out of college I worked for Special Olympics.  During that time I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to Syria with Special Olympics co-founder Sargent Shriver; it was one of his many trips around the world intended to improve the lives of mentally handicapped individuals. It's a trip I will never forget.

The first working day we had in Damascus I couldn’t find Sarge anywhere. Then, while standing in the hotel lobby, I caught sight of him leading a wedding parade in the street. There he was, wielding a sword laughing openly and dancing with the couple's families. He couldn’t have looked happier. I rushed outside and he caught my eye and raised his eyebrows with a smile and a glint in his eye as if to say we’ll get to work in just a minute.

I didn’t realize it then but this would set the tone for our work. Throughout our trip Sarge maintained that same enthusiasm. Whether he was talking with a Special Olympics athlete or meeting with a government official, he gave each person his rapt attention.

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In my short trip with Sargent Shriver I learned an important lesson, that to touch the lives of many you must first begin by touching the life of just one individual.

Before we parted ways, as I returned to Washington and Sarge continued to Iran on more Special Olympics business, I got one last glimpse of the Shriver joie de vivre. On our last evening in Damascus we were taken to a karaoke lounge where Sarge insisted on belting out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with so much gusto that the whole room joined in.

That trip was but a snippet of the life of a man who was a giant in the world of public service, but I believe it was a true example of his way.

Thank you, Sarge, for what you taught me and, I’m certain, countless others.

Claudine Ebeid is an Assistant Producer for NPR Newscasts.