Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics Founder, Dies

  • 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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Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics, has died at the age of 88. (b. July 10, 1921.) She was the younger sister of President John F. Kennedy, and the fifth and middle child in the famous Kennedy family.

Shriver grew up in a family that put a lot of value in competition.

"I was always trying to find my brothers. Not my sisters, but my brothers, because I knew they wanted to do football, and I wanted to play football. And I was very good. I was always the quarterback," she said.

It was the brothers — Jack, Bobby and Ted — who built an American political dynasty.

Eunice, too, was smart, politically savvy and fascinated by public policy. History professor Edward Shorter says the only thing that kept her from running for political office was the era she grew up in.

"Because in the 1950s, she couldn't go there," says Shorter, the author of The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation. "She couldn't get on that political stage. Women weren't tolerated there."

"Eunice started out in Chicago in the early 1950s as a society woman. And that's the way she saw her role, but she dumped that," he says. "In fact, she was keen to dump it. She wanted to become like her brothers. She wanted to become a leader, and she was able to achieve a national leadership position in the area of developmental disabilities."

Shriver made mental retardation a cause. In large part, she said, because she was close to her older sister Rosemary, who was born with mild retardation. At the time, to have a family member with retardation was still something to be kept secret.

But when John Kennedy became president, Shriver pushed him to speak openly about the family's experience. He did. Then he appointed a groundbreaking presidential commission on mental retardation and got legislation to set up important scientific research centers.

Later, Shriver made her own contribution by starting the Special Olympics. It gave people with retardation a rare chance to play sports.

In the summer of 1968, Shriver opened the first Special Olympics in Chicago. It was just weeks before the violent Democratic convention, and just weeks after the assassination of her brother Bobby.

What began that year has grown: Now the world games attract athletes from more than 180 countries.

'She Rages At Injustice'

Shriver had star power and political connections. With one phone call, she could get a meeting with senators, Cabinet secretaries — even presidents. On her 85th birthday, President George W. Bush held a White House dinner in her honor.

Even as she grew older and frail, Shriver kept advocating for people with mental retardation — on a daily basis.

"She rages at injustice," University of Delaware professor Steven Eidelman said in an interview in 2007. "And when she thinks that people with intellectual disabilities are getting the short end of the stick, not getting things other people are getting, being discriminated against, being underestimated, it just hits that passionate civil rights fiber in her and she becomes ... energized."

Devoted To Family

Shriver got strength from her Roman Catholic faith. She went to Mass every day.

She was devoted to her family. She cared for her husband, Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps, after he developed Alzheimer's disease.

Daughter Maria married Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. He first ran for governor of California in 2003. On his final campaign swing, his famous Democratic mother-in-law was at his side.

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