The Kennedys

Eunice Kennedy Shriver leaves a legacy of her own

By Ric Bohy

August 11, 2009 at 10:51am

She was competitive enough to play quarterback in her brothers’ football games. She had political ambitions, but couldn’t go after them because women simply weren’t allowed in big league politics in her prime.

So Eunice Kennedy Shriver combined two of her most prominent traits to leave a legacy of understanding, compassion, and hard-fought physical contests. She created the Special Olympics, now played by intellectually challenged athletes in more than 160 countries worldwide.

Shriver, middle child in of the family that produced a political dynasty with President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, died early this morning at Cape Cod Hospital in Boston after suffering several strokes in recent years. She was 88.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Shriver was the wife of the Peace Corps’ founding director and 1972 vice-presidential hopeful R. Sargent Shriver Jr., who has struggled with Alzheimer’s since 2003. He was with her when she died, as were her daughter, former NBC correspondent Maria Shriver; her husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; her other four children; and all of her 19 grandchildren. Of her siblings, only Ted Kennedy and sister Jean Kennedy Smith survive.

The Associated Press reported that Sen. Kennedy, fighting brain cancer at home in the family’s Hyannis Port compound, was not able to join family members who were called to her bedside Monday for a “minute-to-minute” vigil. Shriver’s only surviving brother issued a statement upon his sister’s death.

“She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us – much is expected of those to whom much has been given,” he said. “Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough.”

President Barack Obama called Shriver “an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation – and our world – that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.”

Shriver was close to her younger sister, the late Rosemary Kennedy, whose mental retardation had been kept a secret by the ambitious family until Shriver pushed President Kennedy to bring it to light and become an advocate for removing the stigma from intellectual disability.

Harrison Rainie, author of the 1990 book “Growing Up Kennedy,” wrote three years later in U.S. News & World Report that when “the full judgment on the Kennedy legacy is made – including JFK’s Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress, Robert Kennedy’s passion for civil rights and Ted Kennedy’s efforts on health care, work place reform and refugees – the changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential.”

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