Not unexpected, but sad news out of Hyannis this morning.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who planted the seeds for the Special Olympics when she launched Camp Shriver on the lawn of her Maryland home, and then with force of will and the clout of her family name spread her vision of lifting the developmentally disabled “into the sunlight of useful living,” died this morning.
Mrs. Shriver was 88. She had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and died at 2 a.m. at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, her family said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
When Mrs. Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968, holding its inaugural Summer Games at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the 1,000 athletes outnumbered spectators more than 10 to 1. By its 40th anniversary last year, 3 million athletes in 181 countries competed in Special Olympics contests and uncounted millions more gathered to watch, cheer, and encourage.
Within the constraints of her era, gender, and social strata, she was the most ambitious, too, becoming an international leader more than a half century ago in the burgeoning movement to wrest mental retardation from the shadows of hushed conversations.
A younger sister of Rosemary Kennedy, who was developmentally disabled and institutionalized most of her life, Mrs. Shriver dedicated decades to ensuring that other families would not endure the fate of her own, watching a loved one whisked behind closed doors.
Thank you, Mrs. Shriver, for the gifts your life gave my child and millions like her, as well as our families and communities.
You changed the world forever.
More below the fold.Statements today include those of:
Though at the end her body had become weak, her heart was strong and it was abundantly full. It was overflowing with faith in God’s will. It was replete with a sense of contentment about the past and a deep hope for the future. It was full of love and gratitude for those to whom she had dedicated her life’s work and who had in return given her life the gifts of clarity, aspiration and friendship.
Her heart was full indeed of faith, hope and love. She was very much at peace.
As I write to you, her extended family of the Special Olympics movement that she loved so deeply, it is hard not to recognize that these same traits that sustained her at the time of her death had fulfilled and motivated her throughout her lifetime of advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities — or as she always said, her “special friends.”
Her faith in the athletes of Special Olympics was unfailing, even from the very start. When she was young and Special Olympics was still just an idea, few people particularly cared or knew about people with intellectual disabilities. Fewer still shared or understood her dream to awaken the spirit and denied potential of this forgotten population. And yet, though others could not see, she still believed, conceiving Special Olympics in her heart before she could unveil it on the field of play.
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. And this faith in turn gave her hope that their future might be radically different.
Her faith in them allowed her to hope for an army of supporters – coaches, volunteers, donors, fans – that would emerge and grow and become the foundation upon which a worldwide human rights movement would be built. It allowed her to envision a world of formerly skeptical people who would witness the accomplishments of our athletes and say “Yes! I understand!” Hope allowed her to see the invisible, fight for the isolated and achieve the impossible.
She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us — much is expected of those to whom much has been given. Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough.
The seeds of compassion and hope she planted decades ago in her backyard summer camp were inspired by her love for our sister Rosemary. Over the years, she grew those seeds into a worldwide movement that has given persons with disabilities everywhere the opportunity to lead more productive and fulfilling lives. We would never have had an Americans with Disabilities Act without her.
Though the Special Olympics will be her enduring monument, in our family she’ll be remembered as a loyal and loving sister, a treasured wife to Sarge, and a wonderful mother and grandmother.
“Eunice was the light of our family. She meant so much, not only to us, but to our country and to the world. She was a pioneer who worked tirelessly for social and scientific advances that have changed the lives of millions of developmentally disabled people all over the world.
“Inspired by her faith in God and her love of her sister, Rosemary, she was on a life-long mission to expand opportunities for those with intellectual challenges and to prove that they are capable of great achievements.
“Apart from her family, her greatest legacy is the Special Olympics, which started as a summer camp in her backyard in 1962, and has grown into a global movement and organization that has transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
“Eunice was the devoted mother of five children, including my dear wife, Maria. My 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 Olympics. I will miss her every day, but I know her spirit endures through her amazing children and grandchildren, and through the many lives she changed.”
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Eunice was many things to many people: a mother who inspired her children to serve others; a wife who supported her husband Sargent in the Peace Corps and in politics; and a sister to her siblings, including brothers John, Robert, and Edward.
But above all, she will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, 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 human spirit. Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sargent; their children Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark, and Anthony; and the entire Kennedy family.
It is very hard to adequately express my feelings right now- that one person’s determination to change Society’s views of disabled people such as our autistic daughter Jean was so strong that she DID it- I cannot thank Mrs. Shriver or her family enough for that gift.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Shriver, and many grateful thanks for a life well lived and a generosity beyond measure. You changed the WORLD.