Eunice Kennedy Shriver dead at 88
Former Potomac resident founded Special Olympics
Eunice Mary Kennedy Shriver had a "powerful vision that went down to her bones," according to Pam Yerg, Montgomery County's director for Special Olympics Maryland.
Shriver, 88, who lived for more than two decades in Potomac, died early Tuesday morning at Cape Cod Hospital near the Kennedy family's compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.
According to a statement from her family, her husband, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., her five children and her 19 grandchildren were at her side.
She had suffered a series of strokes over the past few years, the family's statement said.
Moved in her youth by the plight of her older, mentally handicapped sister, Rosemary, Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968.
"She combined the Kennedy passion for sports and service with her passion for her sister," said Yerg, her voice cracking with emotion Tuesday.
"My favorite memory of her [at Special Olympics events] is you can't find her unless you go looking in the throngs of the athletes."
Born in Brookline, Mass., on July 10, 1921, into America's most prominent, and perhaps most ambitious, Democratic political family, Shriver was the fifth of nine children of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and sister of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, late president John F. Kennedy and the late senator Robert F. Kennedy.
She charted her own course in a clan where the men usually took center stage.
Shriver perhaps will be best known for her Special Olympics legacy.
Before it grew into an international program that provides sports training and competition for more than 2 million people with developmental disabilities, the Special Olympics got its start as Camp Shriver in the early 1960s in her family's yard. It offered recreation and social opportunities for children who were turned away from summer programs that welcomed other children.
After learning of the death of Shriver, Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) of Takoma Park, who called himself a friend of Shriver's for more than 20 years, issued a statement that said, in part, "Her compassion and advocacy for the needs of the mentally disabled is unparalleled."
In 1953, she married Sargent Shriver, a lawyer and Westminster, Md., native who had organized and was the first director of the Peace Corps, created VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Head Start and the Job Corps and served as ambassador to France.
Before her marriage, she began her own lifetime of social activism, soon after graduating from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 1943. That year she went to work for the U.S. State Department helping former prisoners of war adjust to civilian life. Later, she was a social worker at the federal women's prison in Alderson, W.Va.
In 1951, she moved to Chicago, where she worked with youth at a shelter and in juvenile court.
Later, she worked on the political campaigns of her brothers, children and son-in-law, as well as on those of her husband, who was tapped to run for vice president on George McGovern's ticket after Thomas Eagleton dropped out of the race in 1972 and who ran for president himself in 1976.
As an executive of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, Shriver directed millions of dollars in grants to research into mental illness and to scholarships in bioethics.
Among her many awards were a Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented in 1984, and the Legion of Honor.
She is survived by her husband, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., and her children, Robert Sargent Shriver III, a lawyer, philanthropist and Santa Monica, Calif., city councilman; Maria Shriver, formerly a journalist with NBC and wife of California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican; Timothy P. Shriver, Special Olympics chairman; Mark K. Shriver, a former Maryland delegate and director of U.S. programs for Save the Children; and Anthony Shriver, chairman of Best Buddies International. Also surviving are her brother U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, sister Jean Kennedy Smith, and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.