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||BOSTON (AP) -
President John F. Kennedy's sister,
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who carried
on the family's public service
tradition by founding the Special Olympics and
championing the rights of the
mentally disabled, died early Tuesday
surrounded by relatives at a Hyannis
hospital. She was 88.
Shriver had suffered a series of
strokes in recent years and died at
Cape Cod Hospital, her family said in
a statement. Her husband, her five
children and all 19 of her
grandchildren were by her side, the
"She was the light of our lives,
a mother, wife, grandmother, sister
and aunt who taught us by example and
with passion what it means to live a
faith-driven life of love and service
to others," the family said.
The hospital is near the Kennedy
family compound, where her sole
surviving brother, Sen. Edward
Kennedy, has been battling a brain
Sen. Kennedy said his earliest memory of
his sister was as a young girl "with
great humor, sharp wit, and a boundless
passion to make a difference."
"She understood deeply the lesson
our mother and father taught us - much is
expected of those to whom much has been
given," he said in a statement.
"Throughout her extraordinary life,
she touched the lives of millions, and
for Eunice that was never enough."
President Barack Obama said Shriver will
be remembered as "as a champion for
people with intellectual disabilities,
and as an extraordinary woman who, as
much as anyone, taught our nation - and
our world - that no physical or mental
barrier can restrain the power of the
As celebrity, social worker and activist,
Shriver was credited with transforming
America's view of the mentally disabled
from institutionalized patients to
friends, neighbors and athletes. Her
efforts were inspired in part by the
struggles of her mentally disabled
"We have always been honored to
share our mother with people of good will
the world over who believe, as she did,
that there is no limit to the human
spirit," her family said in the
Shriver was also the sister of Sen.
Robert F. Kennedy, the wife of 1972 vice
presidential candidate and former Peace
Corps director R. Sargent Shriver, and
the mother of former NBC newswoman Maria
Shriver, who is married to California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. With Eunice
Shriver's death, Jean Kennedy Smith
becomes the last surviving Kennedy
Schwarzenegger said his mother-in-law
"changed my life by raising such a
fantastic daughter, and by putting me on
the path to service, starting with
drafting me as a coach for the Special
A 1960 Chicago Tribune profile of the
women in then-candidate JFK's family said
Shriver was "generally credited with
being the most intellectual and
politically minded of all the Kennedy
When her brother was in the White House,
she pressed for efforts to help troubled
young people and t h e mentally disabled.
And in 1968, she started what would
become the world's largest athletic
competition for mentally disabled
children and adults. Now, more than 1
million athletes in more than 160
countries participate in Special Olympics
meets each year.
"When the full judgment on the
Kennedy legacy is made - including JFK's
Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress,
Robert Kennedy's passion for civil rights
and Ted Kennedy's efforts on health care,
work place reform and refugees - the
changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may
well be seen as the most
consequential," Harrison Rainie,
author of "Growing Up Kennedy,"
wrote in U.S. News & World Report in
It was Shriver who revealed the condition
of her sister Rosemary to the nation
during her brother's presidency.
"Early in life Rosemary was
different," she wrote in a 1962
article for the Saturday Evening Post.
"She was slower to crawl, slower to
walk and speak. ... Rosemary was mentally
retarded." Rosemary Kennedy
underwent a lobotomy when she was 23,
though that wasn't mentioned in the
article. She lived most of her life in an
institution in Wisconsin and died in 2005
at age 86.
The roots of the Special Olympics go back
to a summer camp Shriver ran in Maryland
in 1963. Shriver would "get right in
the pool with the kids; she'd toss the
ball," said a niece, former Maryland
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who
volunteered at the camp as a teen.
"It's that hands-on, gritty approach
that awakened her to the kids'
Realizing the children were far more
capable of sports than experts said,
Shriver organized the first Special
Olympics in 1968 in Chicago. The two-day
event drew more than 1,000 participants
from 26 states and Canada.
"She believed that people with
intellectual disabilities could -
individually and collectively - achieve
more than anyone thought possible. This
much she knew with unbridled faith and
certainty," her son Timothy,
chairman of Special Olympics said in a
By 2003, the Special Olympics World
Summer Games, held that year in Dublin,
Ireland, involved more than 6,500
athletes from 150 countries. The games
are held every four years.
Well into her 70s, Shriver remained a
daily presence at the Special Olympics
headquarters in Washington.
"Today we celebrate the life of a
woman who had the vision to create our
movement," said Special Olympics
President and COO Brady Lum.
Juvenile delinquency was another issue
that interested Shriver and spurred her
to action. In his 1991 book "The
Promised Land: The Great Black Migration
and How It Changed America," author
Nicholas Lemann said the Kennedy
administration's juvenile delinquency
commission, "a pet project that had
been created to placate Eunice,"
became the precursor of the vast federal
effort to improve the lot of urban
After he took office, President Lyndon B.
Johnson tapped R. Sargent Shriver to lead
his War on Poverty.
Eunice Shriver was the recipient of
numerous honors, including the nation's
highest civilian award, the Presidential
Medal of Freedom, which she received in
1984. In May, the National Portrait
Gallery installed a painting of her - the
first portrait commissioned by the museum
of someone who had not been a president
or first lady.
Shriver was born in Brookline, Mass., the
fifth of nine children to Joseph P.
Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. She
earned a sociology degree from Stanford
University in 1943 after graduating from
a British boarding school while her
father served as ambassador to England.
She was a social worker at a women's
prison in Alderson, W.Va., and worked
with the juvenile court in Chicago in the
1950s before taking over the Joseph P.
Kennedy Foundation with the goal of
improving the treatment of the mentally
disabled. The foundation was named for
her oldest brother, Joseph Jr., who was
killed in World War II.
In 1953, she married Shriver. He became
JFK's first director of the Peace Corps,
was George McGovern's vice-presidential
running mate in 1972, and ran for
president himself briefly in 1976.
Survivors include her husband, who was
diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in
2003, and the couple's five children:
Maria Shriver, who is married to
Schwarzenegger; Robert, a city councilman
in Santa Monica, Calif.; Timothy,
chairman of Special Olympics; Mark, an
executive at the charity Save the
Children; and Anthony, founder and
chairman of Best Buddies International, a
volunteer organization for the mentally