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Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics Founder, Dies

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Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics Founder, Dies

Remembrances

Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics Founder, Dies

Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics Founder, Dies

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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.

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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.