R. Sargent Shriver, the Kennedy in-law who became the founding director of the Peace Corps, the architect of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, the United States ambassador to France and the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1972, died Tuesday. He was 95.[...]
Mr. Shriver was found to have Alzheimer’s disease in 2003. That fall, white-haired and elegantly attired, he attended the inauguration of his son-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the Republican governor of California. But in recent years, as his condition deteriorated, he withdrew from his long life of public service.
Married to President John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice for 56 years, he was bound inextricably to one of the nation’s most powerful political dynasties. It was an association with enormous advantages, thrusting him to prominence in a series of seemingly altruistic missions. But it came with handicaps, relegating him to the political background and to a subordinate role in the family history.
“Shriver’s relationship with the Kennedys was complex,” Scott Stossel wrote in “Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver,” a 2004 biography. “They buoyed him up to heights and achievements he would never otherwise have attained — and they held him back, thwarting his political advancement.”
The book and reports in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications suggested that Mr. Shriver’s hopes to run for governor of Illinois in 1960 and vice president in 1964 and 1968 were abandoned to help promote, or at least not compete with, Kennedy aspirations. Mr. Shriver’s vice-presidential race in 1972, on a ticket with Senator George S. McGovern, and a brief primary run for president in 1976 were crushed by the voters.[...]
And his impact on American life was significant. On the stage of social change for decades, Mr. Shriver brought President Kennedy’s proposal for the Peace Corps to fruition in 1961 and served as the organization’s director until 1966. He tapped into a spirit of volunteerism, and within a few years thousands of young Americans were teaching and working on public health and development projects in poorer countries around the world.
After the president’s assassination in 1963, Mr. Shriver’s decision to remain in the Johnson administration alienated many of the Kennedys, especially Robert, who remained as the United States attorney general for months but whose animus toward his brother’s successor was profound. But Mr. Shriver’s responsibilities deepened. In 1964, Johnson persuaded him to take on the administration’s war on poverty, a campaign embodied in a vast new bureaucracy, the Office of Economic Opportunity.
From 1965 to 1968, Mr. Shriver, who disdained bureaucracies as wasteful and inefficient, was director of that agency, a post he held simultaneously until 1966 with his Peace Corps job. The agency created numerous antipoverty programs, including Head Start, the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, the Community Action Program and Legal Services for the Poor. (The Office of Economic Opportunity was dismantled in 1973, but many of its programs survived in other agencies and continue to aid thousands of disadvantaged people.)[...]
In later years, he was a rainmaker for an international law firm, Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and he retired in 1986. He was also active in the Special Olympics, founded by his wife for mentally disabled athletes; he became its president in 1984, chairman in 1990 and chairman emeritus in 2003.[...]
Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., known as Sarge from childhood, was born in Westminster, Md., on Nov. 9, 1915, the son of his namesake, a banker, and Hilda Shriver. His forebears, called Schreiber, immigrated from Germany in 1721. One ancestor, David Shriver, was a signer of Maryland’s 1776 Constitution. The Shrivers were Roman Catholic and socially prominent, but not especially affluent.
On scholarships, he attended Canterbury, a Catholic boarding prep school in New Milford, Conn. — John F. Kennedy was briefly a schoolmate — and Yale University, graduating with honors in 1938. He earned a Yale law degree in 1941. He joined the Navy shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor and was an officer on battleships and submarines in the Atlantic and the Pacific, winning a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained at Guadalcanal.
After the war, he joined Newsweek as an editor. He met Eunice Kennedy at a dinner party, and she introduced him to her father, Joseph P. Kennedy. In 1946, Joseph Kennedy hired him to help manage his recently acquired Merchandise Mart in Chicago, then the world’s largest commercial building. In Chicago, Mr. Shriver not only turned a profit for the mart but also plunged into lay Catholic affairs and Democratic politics.
After a seven-year commuting courtship, Mr. Shriver and Ms. Kennedy were married by Cardinal Francis Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1953. Eunice Shriver died in 2009.
In addition to Maria Owings Shriver, he is survived by four sons, Robert Sargent Shriver III of Santa Monica, Calif., Timothy Perry Shriver of Chevy Chase, Md., Mark Kennedy Shriver of Bethesda, Md., and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver of Miami; and 19 grandchildren.[...]
He took root in Chicago. In 1954, he was appointed to the city’s Board of Education, and a year later became its president. In 1955, he also became president of the Catholic Interracial Council, which fought discrimination in housing, education and other aspects of city life. By 1959, he had become so prominent in civic affairs that he was being touted as a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois in 1960.
Mr. Shriver did nothing to discourage reports that he was considering a run. But with the rest of the Kennedy clan, he joined John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. As he and other family members acknowledged later, the patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, had told him that a separate Shriver race that year would be a distraction. So he resigned from the Chicago school board and became a campaign coordinator in Wisconsin and West Virginia and a principal contact with minorities.
As the election approached, the campaign learned that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been sentenced in Georgia to four months of hard labor for what amounted to a minor traffic violation. Mr. Shriver suggested that Senator Kennedy call a distraught Coretta Scott King, who was terrified that her husband might be killed in prison. His reassuring call, and another by Robert F. Kennedy to a judge in Georgia that led to Dr. King’s release, helped produce a windfall of black support for Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy broached the idea for a volunteer corps in a speech at the University of Michigan and crystallized it as the Peace Corps in an appearance in San Francisco. Mr. Shriver, who as a young man had guided American students on work-and-learn programs in Europe, seemed a natural to initiate it.
Mr. Shriver, who scouted talent for the incoming administration, including cabinet members and others who came to be known as “the best and the brightest,” was assigned after the inauguration to the task of designing the Peace Corps, which was established by executive order in March 1961.
As director, he laid the foundations for what arguably became the most lasting accomplishment of the Kennedy presidency. As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary this year, more than 200,000 Americans have served as corps volunteers in 139 countries.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
RIP: Sargent Shriver
Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, has died at the age of 95. Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimers. May he rest in peace. My condolences go out to Sarge's family and the entire extended Kennedy family.