Eunice Shriver, Special Olympics founder and JFK’s sister, dies at 88

Author: By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Ms Kennedy Shriver, fifth of the nine children born to Joseph Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, died at a hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Her husband, Sargent Shriver, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate of 1972, as well as her five children and all 19 of her grandchildren, were at her bedside.

Her death leaves just two survivors among the Kennedy children: Edward, 77, who has represented Massachusetts in the Senate since 1962 and who last year was diagnosed with brain cancer, and Jean Kennedy Smith, a former US ambassador to Ireland, who is aged 81.

President Obama hailed Ms Kennedy Shriver as “an extraordinary woman” who “taught our nation, and our world, that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit.”

Her brother Edward spoke of how deeply his sister had “understood the lesson our mother and father taught us: much is expected of those to whom much has been given.”

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, said that her work for the Special Olympics for the intellectually disabled had “changed the lives of millions throughout the world.”

Her brothers may have included a president and two senators, but Ms Kennedy Shriver was no less accomplished. She was a devout Catholic and the most committed to public service of the five Kennedy sisters.

The Special Olympics, the foundation of which was her greatest accomplishment, was inspired by the plight of her elder sister Rosemary, who was slightly mentally retarded from birth and completely incapacitated by an attempted lobotomy that her father had sought to control her mood swings. Ms Kennedy Shriver’s mother, Rose, later described Rosemary Kennedy’s misfortune as the first of the tragedies to afflict the family.

Ms Kennedy Shriver was the only sibling to maintain regular contact with Rosemary after she was placed in a mental home. In 1962 she wrote a ground-breaking article for the Saturday Evening Post in which she described Rosemary’s condition and her family’s attempts to deal with it. The Special Olympics, which now embraces three million people around the world, started life in 1962.

She invited 35 mentally disabled boys and girls to a day camp at the Shriver home in Maryland, to take part in sports and other physical activities. Inmates from a local prison served as counsellors and teenagers from Catholic high schools volunteered to help run the camp.

The first Special Games were held in July 1968 in Chicago and were attended by athletes from 26 US states as well as from Canada.

Ms Kennedy Shriver’s sense of public service was evident from her 20s, when she was a social worker at a women’s prison in West Virginia. In 1960, she worked on her brother’s presidential bid.

More than 40 years later, she was active in her son-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign to become the Governor of California.

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