By Jim O'Sullivan
January 18, 2011
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.
By Jim O'Sullivan
January 18, 2011