I do not admit to having many heroes, but Sargent Shriver was my hero. He passed away yesterday at age 95. For most of this decade he suffered from Alzheimer's disease, a terrible condition for anyone, but especially sad for a man who gave this world so much. This post is not about writing or about mystery. It is about a man who left this world a more peaceful, more just and more compassionate world than when he entered it.
Following service in the Navy in World War II, Sargent Shriver was hired by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. to manage the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Through him, he met and married Eunice Kennedy, sister of John, Robert and Edward. Shriver served as JFK's Midwest campaign manager during the 1960 presidential campaign.
In 1961, Kennedy appointed him the first director of the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was expected to be a huge fiasco. Kennedy reportedly told Shriver that he was given the job because it was easier to fire a relative than a friend. The Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011. More than 200,000 volunteers have served around the world. Shriver directed the Peace Corps until 1966.
In 1963, President Johnson appointed Shriver to head the Office of Economic Opportunity while continuing to run the Peace Corps. As head of OEO, Shriver directed Johnson's war on poverty through a handful of agencies and programs, most of which he created. Shriver's brainchildren include Head Start, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America), Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Legal Services, The National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, Indian and Migrant Services, and Neighborhood Health Services.
From 1968 to 1970, Shriver served as ambassador to France. In 1972, he ran for Vice President as George McGovern's running mate.
Shriver's wife, Eunice Shriver, founded the Special Olympics International which provides athletic training and sponsors sporting events for people with intellectual disabilities. In 1984, Shriver became president of Special Olympics and, in 1990, Chairman of the Board. He was succeeded in that position by his son, Timothy.
In 2003, Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. His daughter Maria, the former first lady of California, wrote a children's book, What's Happening to Grandpa? to explain the disease to children. Eunice Shriver died in 2009. The Shriver's had five children.
Although I never met Sargent Shriver, he had a profound effect on me. I served in the Peace Corps from 1972 to 1975 in what was the best job of my life. It allowed me to make, what I hope, is a small contribution to the world. That contribution would not have been possible without Sargent Shriver. Neither would the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of other volunteers in all of the agencies he founded or directed. The lives of countless numbers of people around the world have been made better by Sargent Shriver.