Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009)
MSA SC 3520-13619
July 10, 1921- Organization official; social activist; social worker.
Since the mid-1950s, when she became the executive vice-president
of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.
Foundation, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has been a leader in the worldwide struggle to improve the lives of
people with mental retardation. Through her fierce determination and unrelenting efforts in their behalf,
Shriver sparked nothing less than "a revolution in research on the causes of mental retardation, the
care of the retarded, and the acceptance of the retarded by the community," an accomplishment for
which she was honored with the prestigious Albert Lasker Public Service Award, in 1966, and the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1984--the nation's highest civilian award. During the administration of
President John F. Kennedy, Shriver played a key role in gaining the involvement of the federal
government in that revolution. In 1968 she founded Special Olympics, which, with more than one million
athletes and half a million coaches and other volunteers participating, has become the largest
year-round program of sports training and competition in the world for mentally retarded children and
adults. An international endeavor that has been labeled "a precursor of the larger disability rights
movement," Special Olympics has demonstrated the humanity and long-unsuspected abilities of
retarded people and thereby has helped to remove barriers that separated them from their neighbors
and society as a whole. In an address that she made at the fifth International Summer Special
Olympics Games, in 1979, Shriver told the athletes, "What you are winning by your courageous efforts
is far greater than any game. You are winning life itself, and in doing so you give to others a most
precious prize--faith in the unlimited possibilities of the human spirit."
A sister of President Kennedy (whom she always called Jack); Senator
Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy of
Massachusetts; Robert F. Kennedy, a United States attorney general and senator who was
assassinated in 1968; and Rosemary Kennedy, who is mentally retarded, Shriver began her career in
public service in the mid-1940s, when she worked with female prisoners, juvenile delinquents,
runaways, and abandoned children. Currently the honorary chairman of Special Olympics International,
she is also the president of Community of Caring, a program that she founded in 1981 to reduce the
incidence of mental retardation among the babies of teenage mothers and that has since been
expanded to address such problems as substance abuse by teenagers.
When, in 1966, a reporter asked her what had attracted her to
social work, Shriver said, "I think that
really the only way you change people's attitudes or behavior is to work with them. Not write papers or
serve on committees. Who's going to work with the child to change him--with the juvenile delinquent
and the retarded? Who's going to teach him to swim? To catch a ball? You have to work with the
person. It's quite simple, actually." "When the full judgment of 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, workplace reform, and refugees--the changes wrought by Eunice
Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential," Harrison Rainie wrote in U.S. News & World
Report (November 15, 1993). "With a lot of help from her very powerful brother Jack and inspiration from
her powerless sister Rosemary, Eunice Shriver helped move the nation for good and for all."
Copyright © 1996 by The H. W. Wilson Co.
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