Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver dies at 95

Sargent Shriver, who helped found the Peace Corps and spearheaded a host of other enduring anti-poverty programs forged through the Great Society, passed away today after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, according to a family friend.

Shriver, who was 95, was hospitalized over the weekend at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

His political career traveled a dramatic arc of social justice, beginning with his isolationist views before World War II, through his desegregation work in Chicago and, later, as president and chairman of the Special Olympics. Shriver, who worked for Joseph P. Kennedy's business empire, married Eunice Kennedy in 1953 and became a trusted family adviser, eventually rising to become a political fixer for brother-in-law President John F. Kennedy.

The couple had five children, most famous of them Maria Shriver, the former NBC anchor and wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite his early opposition to America's involvement in World War II, Shriver served Naval duty in the Pacific, winning a Purple Heart after a sea battle at Guadalcanal. After the war, he worked as an executive for the senior Kennedy's Merchandise Mart, eventually becoming a vital component of the family's political operation. In 1960, he helped Kennedy win in two crucial primary states, Wisconsin and West Virginia. After the election, Shriver helmed the talent search that culminated in "the best and brightest" coming to Washington.

Once his brother-in-law took office, Shriver was tasked with exploring the feasibility of an overseas volunteer program. His report became the cornerstone of the Peace Corps, and he was named its first director.

Almost alone among Kennedy's inner circle, Shriver proved durable through President Lyndon Johnson's administration. He was appointed as a special assistant to Johnson and then as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the headquarters of the Great Society's implementation: Head Start, VISTA, Community Action, Job Corps, Youth Corps, Legal Services of the Poor.

At Shriver's 1964 swearing-in, Johnson called him "the kind of a person that goes where his president leads him because he loves his country that much."

After growing impatient with Johnson over domestic funding, which had been increasingly constrained by the Vietnam War, Shriver accepted a two-year stint as U.S. ambassador to France. When he returned in 1970, Shriver formed Congressional Leadership of the Future, a forerunner of modern political action committees, putting Shriver on a busy schedule packed with national travel and fundraisers for local candidates.

In 1972, after Thomas Eagleton resigned from the Democratic ticket over revelations about his treatment for depression, presidential nominee George McGovern asked Shriver to be his running mate. Four years later, Shriver launched his own ill-fated presidential campaign.

"It's different being a Kennedy brother-in-law than being a Kennedy," said Martin Nolan, the political journalist who grilled Shriver over the role his marriage played in his success during a 1976 "Meet the Press" appearance.

"He wasn't a bad candidate, but it was just time for somebody totally different, and that was Jimmy Carter," Nolan said.

After ending his political career, Shriver returned to his law firm and served as president of the Special Olympics and later chairman. He held a minority ownership in the Baltimore Orioles from 1989 to 1993.

Well into his 80s, Shriver remained a force within the family, Kennedy associates said, overseeing the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation along with Eunice. Known in the family for his meticulous attention to his wardrobe, Shriver continued daily exercise even after the disease had taken hold of his mind, according to family associates.

Diagnosed in 2003, Shriver's Alzheimer's had advanced to the extent that he did not recognize his wife, Schwarzenegger said in 2007. Eunice died in August 2009, two weeks before Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.