Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remember Him?

     His daughter was in the news earlier this year because she was breaking up with her high-profile husband, after being married for 25 years and having four children. In 1953, he himself married a high-profile woman, from an even-higher-profile family. But he remained married to the same woman for 56 years, and together they had five children.

     Today is his birthday. He was born on November 9, 1915, in Maryland, the descendant of a man who in 1776 signed the Maryland Constitution and Bill of Rights. He was a Catholic and attended Canterbury, a Catholic prep school in Connecticut. From there he went to Yale and then Yale Law School, where he was a vocal opponent of American involvement in the European war that started in 1939. He joined the America First Committee, along with fellow student (and future president) Gerald Ford, a group that worked to keep America out of World War II.

     Nevertheless, he joined the Navy even before Pearl Harbor, because he felt it was his patriotic responsibility, and he spent four years in active duty throughout the Pacific. He served on the USS South Dakota, reaching the rank of lieutenant and taking home a Purple Heart for injuries sustained at Guadalcanal.

     After the war he met Wall Street tycoon and famous anti-World War II activist, Joseph P. Kennedy. The billionaire from Boston hired him to manage the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, part of the Kennedy business empire. He also met Kennedy's daughter, and after a seven-year courtship, they were married in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

     When his brother-in-law ran for president in 1960, he was tapped to spearhead the primary campaigns first in Wisconsin, then in West Virginia. After winning the election, President John F. Kennedy turned to him to start the Peace Corps, and he served as its first director.

Daughter Maria
     After the assassination of JFK, he stayed on with the Johnson administration, becoming Special Assistant to the President, then director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, all the time working to help craft Johnson's War on Poverty. He was active in creating many seminal social programs including Head Start, VISTA, Legal Services, and the Jobs Corps. As a Catholic, he was a public opponent of abortion. He also became involved in the Special Olympics, founded by his wife Eunice.

     President Johnson rewarded him in 1968 by naming him ambassador to France, where he represented American interests in Paris from 1968 to 1970. Then, in 1972, when Sen. Thomas Eagleton was forced out of the vice presidential race, presidential candidate George McGovern turned to him as his running mate. The Democratic ticket lost that year in a landslide, leading to Richard Nixon's second and ill-fated term of office.

Sargent Shriver, 1915 - 2011
     And if you don't know who is is by now, you must have been asleep in the early 1970s. After the election Sargent Shriver, affectionately known as Sarge, went on to practice law in Washington, DC. He briefly sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, but dropped out early in the race when he garnered less than 2 percent of the vote. He returned to private practice in Washington. With his eldest son Bobby Shriver, he invested as part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. He became president of the Special Olympics in 1984 and chairman of the board in 1990. In 1994 President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

     Shriver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003. In 2004 his daughter, Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger, published a book, What's Happening to Grandpa? which explained the complications of the disease for the benefit of children. He nevertheless survived his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died in 2009.

     Sargent Shriver died in January 2011, at the age of 95. A Job Corps center in Massachusetts is named after him, as well as an elementary school in Silver Spring, Md., near where he was born, 96 years ago today.


Olga said...

I do remember him...even met him once at a fund raiser.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

Interesting and dejavu for me. I attended the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute for Bioethics and Human Reproduction at Georgetown University when Shriver was the Director. Dianne

rosaria said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Stephen Hayes said...

I've long been an admirer of his. In many ways the comment made about Stephen Mather is appropriate for Sarge: There will never come an end to the good he has done.

Friko said...

We certainly knew of him in Europe and not only because of his famous connections.