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R. Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps Founder & Public Servant, Dies at 95 [VIDEO]

R. Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps Founder & Public Servant, Dies at 95  [VIDEO]

R. Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps, Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 1972, Kennedy in-law, the visionary leader of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, died Tuesday, January 18, at the age of 95. 

A New York Times obituary of Shriver details his many, many accomplishments—he was also ambassador to France in the late 1960′s and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1994—and also his ‘complex’ relationship with his Kennedy in-laws. 

As Scott Stossel wrote in his 2004 biography, Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver, the Kennedys “buoyed him up to heights and achievements he would never otherwise have attained — and they held him back, thwarting his political advancement.” A 2004 PBS documentary about Shriver was entitled American Idealist and portrayed him as investing “a string of social initiatives that shaped an era and dared millions of young Americans to live out their ideals.”

Shriver was, as the Washington Post describes him, “an influential public servant” and figure who bridged the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. While Shriver was never elected to any national office, his “impact on American life was significant,” through his directing of the Peace Corps and, under President Johnson, of the Office of Economic Opportunity. This office agency created such antipoverty programs as Head Start, the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, the Community Action Program and Legal Services for the Poor. 

Diagnosed in 2003 with Alzheimer’s, Shriver was seldom seen in public in the past couple of years. He attended the funeral of his wife of 56 years, Eunice Shriver, in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in 2009. He was also present at the inauguration of his son-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the Republican governor of California in the fall of 2003; Schwarzenegger is married to former NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver.

My husband and I have long admired Shriver for his work with the Special Olympics, which was founded by his wife; it’s an organization that has given individuals with disabilities like my son the chance to participate, and to achieve, in athletic events and competitions.  And I’ve often noted the respect and adulation in my mother’s tone when I mentioned to her that Shriver would be speaking at a graduation ceremony at the university where I was studying. My parents were in their 20′s in the 1960′s and from time to time, they noted to me that they had often thought of joining the Peace Corps, stirred by the calls to service.

A piece on Shriver’s passing on today’s ABC News ends with some excerpts from his speeches about service and public life. I’ll close this tribute to a great man by quoting his own words.

In a 2004 speech to the graduating class of Yale University, Shriver said:

“Yes, indeed, shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor, and less about your own.’

In a speech to a Peace Corps audience in the 1960′s, Shriver described “his take on life and death:”

“The politics of death is bureaucracy, routine, rules, status quo….The politics of life is personal initiative, creativity, flair, dash, a little daring. The politics of death is calculation, prudence, measured gestures.

“The politics of life is experience, spontaneity, grace, directness. The politics of death is fear of youth. The politics of life is to trust the young to their own experiences.


Sargent Shriver describing the work of Peace Corps volunteers on a 1960′s TODAY SHOW, with then-anchor David Garroway.


Sargent Shriver and the Special Olympics, narrated by Tom Brokaw.

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Photo by Abbie Rowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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36 comments

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11:24AM PDT on Apr 29, 2011

RIP Mr Shriver.

Another Great person lost to Alzheimers then death.

May his family know how much he was appreciated and loved by his countrymen.

6:30PM PST on Jan 20, 2011

What an incredible person. This is the type of man we should idolize, not athletes or action heros.

11:42PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

What a wonderful man! I'm glad he lived a long life. The Peace Corps did many good things.

7:02PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

He was the best. My heart goes out to Maria.

6:33PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

sometimes,it doesn't seem like that long ago that even right wing college kids were asking "not what their country could do for them"...and how they could help fight..gasp...poverty...i know conservative lawyers,docs,and mba types who spent a few years in the trenches as vista and peace corp volunteers before they set out to make sizeable fortunes-i know for a fact that amb shriver inspired them all-some personally-each time one of these heroes leaves ,us boomers must come to grips with how long ago camelot really was.how much we could have done-lets hope today's kids will respond to amb shriver's call to service.rip.

5:00PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

A great man to be highly respected. Truly today's generation certainly could learn something from his life and his teachings.

2:36PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

Sgt. Shriver was a inspiration. He was a dedicated and a visionary. May his memory live on and be inspiration to us now and future generations and a constant reminder of what can be accomplished. A sad day for America, the world, the many lives he touched and especially his family.

2:29PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

We have lost another great American. His dedicated service to this country was awe inspiring. I think he was given the right job because he and his wife moved above their privileged stations to do good in the world. They could have lived out their lives without doing anything but they weren't those types of people.
My condolences to their families.

2:21PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

A True American, thank you for all your service Mr. Shriver. My heart goes out to his children, but he is with the love of his life now

1:32PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

What a great loss for this nation. Sgt. Shriver and his wife really in the truest sense, were public servants who poured themselves into the special Olympics. He saw a great need to lift -up others that most of us take for granted, and he (& HIS WIFE) devoted their lives to doing just that.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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