Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died at 2 a.m. today in Cape Cod, Massachusetts at age 88. Her death was anticipated by her extended family who had gathered at her bedside and kept vigil. Yesterday, the Vatican Ambassador to the U.S. implied death was at hand when he released a letter saying that Pope Benedict XVI was “holding close to his heart Eunice as she is called home to eternal life.”
Shriver was the fifth oldest of eight siblings born to Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy. The New York Times described Shriver as a trailblazer for her work to establish the Special Olympics at a time when persons with disabilities lived in isolation and faced considerable scorn. Euncie Kennedy Shriver’s own sister Rosemarie “Rosemary” Kennedy may have been mildly mentally retarded; when her behavior became uncontrollable in early adulthood, her father arranged for a lobotomy. The lobotomy failed and Rosemary Kennedy became permanently mentally disabled. Eunice Kennedy Shriver learned about the challenges faced by the disabled from her sister Rosemary’s struggles.
The Special Olympics concept stemmed from an ordinary event, a phone call to Eunice Kennedy Shriver from a mother unable to find a summer camp for her child with special needs. Shriver started the summer camp “Camp Shriver” at her home in Maryland in response to that call and the success of that camp led to the formation of the Special Olympics.
President Ronald Reagan awarded Eunice Kennedy Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work on behalf of the disabled in 1984. She won several other awards for her work as well. U.S. News and World Report said of her in 1993 that the changes she brought about may be the most consequential of the Kennedy family contributions.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s achievements stand alongside those of her accomplished siblings. Brother John F. Kennedy served as President of the United States; brother Robert F. Kennedy served as U.S. Senator and Attorney General; brother Edward M. Kennedy is known as “the Lion of the Senate,” having served as Senator 23 years; sister Jean Kennedy Smith served as Ambassador to Ireland during the Clinton administration. The eldest Kennedy sibling Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. was awarded the Navy Cross and Air Medal after his plane exploded on a secret mission during World War II.
Like Joseph Kennedy, sister Kathleen Kennedy died young, also in a plane crash. Sister Patricia Kennedy Lawford worked for nonprofits including the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the National Center on Addiction and the National Committee for the Literary Arts.
Of the eight Kennedy siblings, only Senator Ted Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith remain alive.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver is survived by her husband Robert “Sargent” Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps and a former Presidential candidate; her five children Robert Sargeant Shriver III, Maria Shriver, Timothy Shriver, Mark Shriver, and Anthony Shriver as well as 19 grandchildren.
Sources: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iUA18_e1CUwRG8o_XglTcnWW7JzwD9A0NRUG0; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/12/us/12shriver.html?_r=1; http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_eunice_kennedy_shriver; http://kennedy.senate.gov/senator/index.cfm; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Kennedy_Lawford.