Shriver, Eunice Kennedy
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
American sports activist
Eunice Kennedy Shriver can be recognized by her name alone. That was not good enough for her, however, and she forged her own way in the world. Shriver's life was deeply touched by her older sister Rosemary, who was mentally challenged. She noticed how Rosemary struggled to keep up with her and her siblings. Shriver wanted to make a difference for others like Rosemary, showing everyone the wonderful gifts those who were mentally challenged held. Shriver changed the way people perceived those who were mentally impaired, helping those who were mentally challenged believe in themselves and inspiring them to become all they could be by exposing them to new activities.
Growing Up A Kennedy
Eunice had her life cut out for her when she was born into the Kennedy family. John Kennedy Sr. was known for his strict winning philosophy, and Eunice had a lot of competition with eight other siblings. Her older mentally-retarded sister Rosemary wasn't much of a challenge for her, but she cared deeply for Rosemary and was sympathetic to the way others treated her. For years Rosemary's condition was kept secret. It wasn't until Shriver's brother John was elected to the Presidency that she had a pulpit from which to preach her message. President Kennedy felt strongly about Rosemary as well and in 1961 requested that Shriver research the physical capacity of the mentally retarded.
There was no data to be found. What Shriver did find were people being shut away from society in institutions of despair. No one believed that mentally challenged people could do anything but lay in beds all day. People were too scared to explore anything different. Shriver knew different after seeing what her sister was able to do growing up. She decided the only way to collect the data she needed for her task was to organize her own research
project. Her husband, Sargent Shriver supported her and assisted her in assembling nearly 100 volunteers to help out at a day camp held at Timberlake in Rockville, Maryland, where she taught the attendees athletics, floor hockey and aquatics. Sargent was not always sure of Shriver's idea. In an interview for the Record he stated, "I can remember my own skepticism about this at the beginning. I didn't go around saying 'Hot dog, this is the best thing since they invented the light bulb.' When Eunice started her camp in our back yard in Maryland, I saw people doing things we had been told they couldn't do. Like riding horseback, swimming, and climbing trees. This was 1963. You have to understand, when we used to go around to institutions for the mentally retarded in the 1950s, most mentally handicapped people were not involved in any physical activity. They weren't considered strong or capable. Some places wouldn't even let them in the swimming pool for fear they might drown."
Shriver not only changed the mind of her husband, she had an effect on the way political leaders and eventually the general public viewed the mentally retarded. Sheila Dinn writes in Hearts of Gold, "In the summer of 1962, 100 young people with mental retardation came to Mrs. Shriver's camp to run, swim, play soccer, and ride horses. They enjoyed the camp and loved the sports they learned, and by the end of the summer they were 'faster and stronger' than ever before. The doctors and experts had been wrong!"
President John F. Kennedy waited for his sister's report with great anticipation. "JFK even broke away from one of the emergency meetings on the Cuban missile crisis on October 15, 1962, to receive the panel's report," according to Harrison Rainie and Katia Hetter writing for U.S. News & World Report. Shriver knew that with this report she would be able to influence those in the political realm, but now she needed to address the daunting task of how to influence the public. According to Rainie and Hetter, She "hammered at the issue" further with her brother, expressing that she wanted to "come out" about their sister Rosemary by writing an article for the Saturday Evening Post. He agreed to this, just asking that he be able to see it before she submitted it. He approved of what Shriver wrote and it was published. "I wanted to convince people if the mentally retarded were given a chance they could achieve," stated Shriver in the book Special Olympics by Nancy Gilbert. When a Kennedy speaks, people listen, and according to Rainie and Hetter "the change in public and scientific attitudes prompted by the article and the work of the presidential panel was striking."
"She has a carefully constructed set of values and she will not budge from them. She is highly principled in ways that are more sophisticated than anyone in the family. If you ask, most of my brothers, sisters, and cousins would say they'd like to be like her," said Bobby Kennedy when speaking with Rainie about his Aunt Eunice. People with mental retardation finally had a voice. Shriver believed in them, and she would be a champion for their cause at all costs. Each summer she continued to assist in organizing camps all over the United States and in Canada where the mentally challenged could explore their physical prowess.
"In 1967 the people who ran the Chicago program decided that athletes around the city were ready to compete against one another. When they asked the Kennedy Foundation for money to help organize a city-wide competition, Mrs. Shriver decided to take the idea even further – and hold an international competition!," writes Dinn. In 1968, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, the first international competition began. The United States and Canada participated and there were over 1,000 athletes who took part. The event was so successful that the Special Olympics non-profit organization was formed that same year, to continue the development of this wonderful competition. Shriver states in Dinn's book "if those athletes had been uninterested or bored, Special Olympics probably never would have happened. You can't push people into something like this – their enthusiasm has to carry it."
|1920||Born July 10 in Brookline, Massachusetts|
|1946||Runs Juvenile agency|
|1960||Eunice's brother, John F. Kennedy presides as president|
|1961||Works with brother John F. Kennedy to establish Presidential Committee on Mental Retardation|
|1962||Creates Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Awards in Mental Retardation|
|1962||Creates the National Institutes for Child Health and Human Development|
|1963||Runs summer day camp at Timberlawn for mentally retarded|
|1963||Brother John F. Kennedy is shot and killed|
|1964||Initiates five-year public information campaign by the National Advertising Council to promote acceptance of people with metal retardation|
|1964||Influences changes in Civil Services regulations to allow persons with mental retardation to be hired on ability rather than test scores|
|1968||Helps organize the first international competition for mentally challenged, calling it the Special Olympics|
|1968||Special Olympics becomes an official nonprofit organization|
|1969||Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center founded|
|1970||Summer Special Olympics World Games held for first time in Chicago, IL|
|1977||First Winter Special Olympics World Games held in Steamboat Springs, CO|
|1981||Creates "Community of Caring" concept for the reduction of mental retardation among babies of teenagers|
|1982||Establishes sixteen "Community of Caring" model centers|
|1999||Home burns down causing over $600,000 worth of damage as well as loss of family heirlooms|
|2000||Undergoes surgery to remove benign pancreatic tumor|
|2001||Attends Winter Special Olympics World Games held in Anchorage, AK|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1973||Receives Legion of Honor, Lasker Award, Humanitarian Award A.A. M.D|
|1973||Receives National Volunteer Service Award|
|1973||Receives Philadelphia Civic Ballet Award|
|1974||Awarded Prix de Couronne Francais|
|1984||Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom|
|1993||Receives Freedom From Want Medal from Roosevelt Institute|
|1995||Becomes the first living American woman to be portrayed on United States legal tender: the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games silver commemorative coin|
|1998||Inducted into National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY|
|1998||Awarded Aetna Voice of Conscience® Award|
|1999||Receives Juanita Kreps Award|
|2000||Recognized at the inaugural Laureus Sports Awards with the Sport for Good Award|
|2000||Presented with the Noel Foundation Life award|
|2000||Awarded with the Greater Washington D.C. Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Humanitarian Award|
|2000||Receives the Phoenix Foundation for Children Champion of Children Award|
|2001||Awarded an Honorary Degree from the Cardinal Strich University|
|2002||Receives the Theodore Roosevelt Award from the National Collegiate Athletic Association|
Shriver inspired many mentally challenged people to believe in themselves and to work hard to achieve things people never thought possible. "Special Olympics really brings families together". It gives parents and siblings tangible evidence of what this relative who's mentally retarded can really do," according to Doug Single. Michael Maglione's mother had never seen him ski before. She remarked in Gilbert's book, "I was terrified when I saw the size of the mountain. I was watching him come down like it was so easy, going in and out of all the poles. It was very, very thrilling." These valuable results, as well as a plethora of other attributes, have made Shriver's work so important. She truly changed the world and the way in which we conduct it when it comes to those who are mentally challenged. "In the past, parents of children with mental retardation might have felt ashamed or embarrassed. Today they can share the pride and joy of watching their children succeed," writes Gilbert. She changed the mentally challenged lives forever, not only because she petitioned for them to have recreation so that they may become active, but also to treat them as the integral part of society they are. Mike Stone, a Special Olympic competitor remarked to Dinn "Now athletes around the world all have a chance to show who they are, and what they believe in." Loretta Claiborne who competes in running for the Special Olympics shared, "Sports was and still is an outlet for me". Special Olympics is even more than sports. It helps me respect others and get respect back. And most of all it has helped me to get over so many hurdles and to say to myself, 'I am who I am, but I can be the best of who I am'."
Shriver inspired the mentally challenged to dream, and influenced them to believe that anything is possible. The athletes have taken ownership of their event. They have come up with new and exciting games in which to compete. Shriver is even impressed with what has come from Special Olympics, stating to Harrar, "the idea for the chess match came from the athletes. We have no idea how much is possible." Sue Porter, in the same article stated, "It has to change you, seeing all these amazing people doing their best." In fact, the motto of the Special Olympics is "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Those who participate in the World Games are not chosen by their abilities, but rather by picking their name out of a hat. Because of this process "the World Games are a chance for Special Olympics athletes of all abilities from all over the world to show their love of sports," as written by Tim Kennedy in his book titled Special Olympics. President George W. Bush honored Shriver at a holiday reception for the Special Olympics stating she "has made the Special Olympics her life's work. If you ever had any doubt about how much good one person can bring into the world, look no farther than this kind and gracious lady." President Bush continued to speak about the Special Olympics saying it "is an example of America at its best, sharing with the entire world a spirit of joy and kindness."
Still Going Strong
Although Shriver has experienced some set backs due to illness, she still makes an appearance at a variety of events that support the Special Olympics and advocates for the mentally challenged. Shriver told a Toronto reporter "I feel a sense of gratitude, a sense of admiration. I am very energized by them." That explains how she was able to attend the games of 2001 in Alaska, after suffering an acute infection following a surgery she had to remove a benign pancreatic tumor. Although Tim Kennedy, who organized the event, encouraged her to take it easy, she wouldn't miss it for the world. Although Shriver hates public speaking, she knows that it is necessary to inspire the athletes and their families as well as educate the public on the topic of mental retardation.
Related Biography: Founder and President of Best Buddies Anthony Shriver
Anthony is the youngest of Shriver's five children, and Eunice passed on many of her principles to her son. "His mother became his role model," stated Kevin Gray for Miami. People would point and whisper at his Aunt Rosemary when he and his mother would take her out. "It never fazed her. Even when people were staring, she didn't care," said Anthony in the same article. When he was at Georgetown University he noticed his fellow students wasting their spare time, when they could be out making a difference. He organized a group called Best Buddies, where he paired college students with a mentally challenged person. "His goal is to integrate the mentally disabled into mainstream society through one-on-one friendships with others," according to Gray. Over time news of this organization spread throughout the country, and young Anthony would receive incessant calls asking for information on how to set up a program at their school. Shortly after graduating, what was a hobby became his career, as he now manages over "6,500 participants in 172 chapter of the Best Buddies programs around the world," cited Gray. George Zitnay of the National Head Injury Foundation stated, "People with mental retardation have been isolated for too long. Best Buddies addresses the need for valued friendship." Gray concluded that the Shriver family has created a name for themselves for "addressing the needs of the retarded."
Hearts of Gold: A Celebration of Special Olympics and Its Heroes
In the category of pure skill, there is Robert Vasquez. The twelve-year-old from Virginia, USA competed in the top level of gymnastics at the 1995 World Games. In his best event, the rings, Bobby earned a gold medal. Bobby also won four silvers: in the floor exercise, vault, pommel horse, and all-around; one bronze, in the parallel bars; and a fourth place in the high bars.
Bobby's coach Shane Revill, who also coaches non-Special Olympics athletes, considers Bobby's skill and his flexibility in a league with many regular gymnasts. The biggest obstacle to Bobby's success is his frustration when he can't do a move or when things don't go his way. "We had trouble on the first day of competition, when we got a score we didn't agree with," said Shane. "I thought Bobby would be down for the rest of the week. But the next day, he went on his own and apologized to the officials for his poor sportsmanship. Then the group he was competing with came together, almost like a team, instead of athletes competing against each other. High fives, great attitudes – it ended up being the meet of everyone's lives! Bobby ate it up and did a flawless routine on the rings to win the gold."
Source: Dinn, Sheila. Hearts of Gold: A Celebration of Special Olympics and Its Heroes. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, Inc., 1996: 58-59.
"With enormous conviction and unrelenting effort, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has labored on behalf of America's least powerful, those with mental retardation "Her decency and goodness have touched the lives of many," stated President Ronald Reagan when awarding Shriver with the Presidential Medal of Honor. Shriver has received many awards for all her diligent work, but she is the last person to brag about it. She humbly shrugs off any attempts to glorify her work. Michelle Green of People exhorts Shriver saying "She had wooed, coaxed and, sometimes, strong-armed an entire generation of coaches, donors, and volunteers. Along the way she had convinced skeptics that the retarded, once treated as frail specimens (if not ignored altogether), could blossom on the playing field." She paved the way for the mentally challenged to become a normal, working part of society. "Simply not accepting the limitations that the world may put on people with disabilities – that is success," stated Shriver in the foreword for Dinn's book. Shriver is not an openly emotional person, but is moved to tears of joy at most events, seeing how far these athletes have come. Rainie and Hetter sum it up stating "the changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential. With a lot of help for her very powerful brother Jack and inspiration from her powerless sister Rosemary, Eunice Shriver helped move the nation for good and for all."
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Sketch by Barbra J Smerz
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Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Eunice Kennedy Shriver (born 1921) was one of the founders of the Special Olympics, which provided physical training and competition to mentally challenged athletes. She worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for mentally challenged people and to provide them with opportunities to achieve, to become productive citizens, and to be respected members of their communities.
Shriver was one of nine children born to Rose and Joseph Kennedy on July 10, 1921, in Brookline, Massachusetts. In her wealthy and politically powerful family, public service was an honored tradition. One of her brothers, John F. Kennedy, became president of the United States; two others, Robert F. and Edward M. Kennedy, were U.S. senators. All the Kennedy children were expected to compete and excel. Harrison Rainie and John Quinn, in their book Growing Up Kennedy: The Third Wave Comes of Age, quoted her as saying, "The important thing was win-don't come in second or third, that doesn't count-but win, win, win."
Most of the children followed this advice, entering public service or other competitive occupations. One child, however, did not. Shriver's sister, Rosemary, was born with mild mental retardation. As time went on and the children grew up, it became more and more apparent to the entire family, and perhaps to Rosemary herself, that she would never be able to keep up with her siblings. Gradually, Rosemary became more difficult to handle, hitting people and smashing things and, on one occasion, attacking her grandmother.
Rosemary underwent brain surgery in an effort to make her more calm. According to Peter Collier and David Horowitz in The Kennedys: An American Drama, the operation did reduce her rage, but it "made her go from being mildly retarded to very retarded." Rosemary, now unable to function except at a very childlike level, needed constant care. Joe and Rose Kennedy decided to commit their daughter to St. Coletta's, an institution in Wisconsin.
Everyone in the family was affected by Rosemary's condition; they all became more aware of the needs of mentally challenged people. Shriver, in particular, saw that mentally challenged people can often accomplish quite a lot. "Of all the family," Rainie and Quinn remarked, "Eunice is the one who has been the most attentive to seeing and occasionally caring for Rosemary."
A Sense of Social Justice
Shriver was a devoted Catholic and had a strong sense of social justice. When she was 26, she ran a juvenile agency. Later she lived in a West Virginia prison so that she could understand the prisoners' lives. When prisoners were let out on work release, she welcomed them to her home, even after one of them robbed her. Shriver married R. Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and U.S. ambassador to France. He shared her religious views as well as her sense of social responsibility and commitment to helping mentally challenged people.
Shriver's brother, President John F. Kennedy, also had a vision of helping mentally challenged people and their families. In 1961, Shriver helped to establish the Presidential Committee on Mental Retardation. In a news conference on October 11, 1961, Kennedy said, "This condition strikes those least able to protect themselves from it.… At one time, there was practically no effective program in the field of mental retardation. Whenever possible, the children were committed to institutions. They were segregated from normal society and forgotten, except by members of their family.… They suffered from lack of public understanding and they suffered from lack of funds."
In June 1963, Shriver and her husband began a summer day camp at Timberlawn, the Rockville, Maryland home that they rented. The house was a huge Civil War-era mansion with over 200 acres of grounds. For five weeks every summer, 50 to 60 mentally challenged children and adults came to Camp Timberlawn. The camp had a song, a flag-raising ceremony, and many activities including swimming, baseball, soccer, volleyball, and an obstacle course. All campers had companions, usually teenagers, who helped them with activities and made sure they didn't get hurt.
The day camp was so successful in showing that mentally challenged people could benefit from sports and recreational programs, that Shriver, with the help of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, decided to expand it throughout the United States. The Kennedy family had created the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in 1946 to honor the memory of Shriver's oldest brother, who was killed in a plane crash while serving in World War II. The foundation aimed to prevent mental retardation and to improve the lives of mentally challenged people.
In 1962, Shriver created the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Awards in Mental Retardation, and the National Institutes for Child Health and Human Development. Between 1963 and 1968, the Foundation provided grants to aid more than 80 public and private organizations in creating and administering similar day camps for mentally challenged people.
The Kennedy administration began testing the fitness of American school children, giving those who passed the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. Shriver was inspired to give similar tests to physically challenged children, providing silver, gold, and champ awards. This led to the idea of a physical training program and Olympic competition for physically challenged people.
Since 1964, the Chicago Park District had been an enthusiastic participant in the day camp programs. In January 1968, the District asked for a grant to fund an event to be held in a Chicago park. Shriver invited the District's representatives to Washington, where she told them that she approved their plan, but wanted to expand it to an international competition that would be called the "Special Olympics." The Foundation awarded the Chicago Park District a grant to develop and run the first Special Olympics Games.
The Special Olympics
The first International Special Olympics Games were held on July 19 and 20, 1968, at Chicago's Soldier Field, with funding from the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and the Chicago Park District. One thousand athletes from 26 U.S. states and Canada competed in track and field events, hockey, and aquatic sports. Shriver, perhaps remembering her father's overemphasis on winning at all costs, modified the definition of "winning" for these games. All competitors in the Special Olympics were "winners," simply because they entered the competition. "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," is the oath taken by athletes in the Special Olympics. Shriver's son, Tim, told Rainie and Quinn, "The best way to describe it is that you are expected to push, push, push, and do your best." As he told interviewer Oprah Winfrey, "Special Olympics is about … saying it's not what you're born with but what you bring to the table. If you run that race with everything God gave you, you've won."
Frank Gifford, in a foreword to the book Skill, Courage, Sharing, Joy: The Stories of Special Olympics, explained, "No person is too handicapped to take part in Special Olympics. Each competes to the extent of his or her abilities. And no achievement is too small, no time too slow. What these true Olympians may lack in speed or strength, they more than make up for with their effort and determination." He quoted Shriver, who said, "In a world where poverty, war, and oppression have dimmed people's hopes, Special Olympic athletes rekindle that hope with their spiritual strength, their excellence, and achievements. For as we hope for the best in them, hope is reborn in us."
Shriver wrote in her foreword to Readings in Special Olympics, "Special Olympians and their families are challenging the common wisdom that says only intellectual achievement is the measure of human life. They have proved that the common wisdom is wrong. Special Olympians and their families-more than one million of them-are proof that the value of human life should be measured in many ways."
The Games were so successful that in December 1968, Special Olympics International became an official nonprofit organization and a Special Olympics chapter was organized in every U.S. state, as well as in Canada and France. The program has grown phenomenally and is now known around the world. In the 1995 World Summer Games in New Haven, Connecticut, almost 7,000 athletes from 130 countries competed with the help of 2,000 coaches, 15,000 family members and friends, 450,000 volunteers, 500,000 spectators and 1,500 media members. Millions of people watched the games on television. As of 1999, more than one million athletes in 50 U.S. states and 150 countries competed in 26 sports; more than 15,000 games, meets, and tournaments were held during the year.
The Special Olympics movement embodies quality training and high levels of sportsmanship. Because of its commitment, it is the only sports organization that has received approval from the International Olympic Committee to use the word "Olympics" in its title. Its goals have expanded as society began to realize what mentally challenged people could accomplish. Currently, Special Olympics athletes also coach, officiate at events, give speeches, and hold regular jobs. As the Special Olympics Quarterly Newsletter from Spring/Summer of 1998 notes, "They surprise the world around them with their abilities! Today's Special Olympics movement does not exist for the athlete, but with the athlete-for they are the future, the leaders, the heroes as the movement reaches out to people with mental retardation all over the world."
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center
In 1969, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center was founded. It was one of the first mental retardation and developmental disabilities research centers and university-affiliated programs in the United States. The Center conducts basic research to determine how biological and environmental factors influence human development, with a special influence on mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. In addition, the Center provides training and service programs for people with developmental disabilities and their families. President Ronald Reagan awarded Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work "on behalf of America's least powerful people, the mentally retarded."
Gratitude and Admiration
In 1995, Shriver was scheduled to speak to a gathering at Yale University as the 1995 Kiphuth Fellowship Speaker. The Kiphuth Foundation honors people who are distinguished in sports, literature, or the arts. Because she was ill at the time, her husband spoke for her. Mr. Shriver spoke about the beauty and purity of the Special Olympics, comparing them to professional sports. "The professional athlete doesn't really play the sport any more, but just goes out there to do his job and earn a living" he told Richard Seltenreich of the Yale Daily News. He praised his wife's dedication to expanding the lives of people with mental retardation through sports: "Through sports she brought out the best in others, giving them a friend and now a coach."
Quinn and Rainie quoted Shriver's nephew, Bobby Kennedy, who said, "She should have been president. She is the most impressive figure in the family. She has a carefully constructed set of values and she will not budge from them. She is highly principled in ways that are more sophisticated than anyone in the family. If you ask, most of my brothers, sisters, and cousins would say they'd like to be like her."
When a Toronto reporter asked Shriver how she felt about the athletes who take part in the games, she said, "I feel a sense of gratitude, a sense of admiration. I am very energized by them."
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"Eunice Kennedy Shriver." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eunice-kennedy-shriver
"Eunice Kennedy Shriver." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eunice-kennedy-shriver