All My National Heros Are Leaving Us… Goodbye Sargent Shriver

Leading liberal light, American idealist Sargent Shriver died yesterday, aged 95.

Though somewhat overshadowed by his brothers-in-law John and Robert Kennedy, Shriver was perhaps the most pure embodiment of “Big Government idealism” during the 1960s.

Sargent Shriver has arguably touched more lives than any American since Franklin Roosevelt. Yet, Shriver remains unknown to most Americans today.

During his tenure in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Shriver created the Peace Corps, directed the War on Poverty, and served as U.S. ambassador to France.

The programs he created, as Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity during Kennedy’s and Johnson’s presidencies—including the Peace Corps, Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, VISTA, Job Corps, Foster Grandparents, and Special Olympics—have improved the lives of millions. Sarge’s story offers both a guiding paradigm and a source of inspiration for those who wish to serve their fellow national and worldwide citizens. Shriver is credited as the master architect of the government’s “War on Poverty.”

In 1968, he helped his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver found the Special Olympics. Shriver married into the Kennedy family in 1953 and helped run John F. Kennedy’s successful 1960 primary campaign in West Virginia.

He later served as the vice presidential candidate for George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid.

Shriver gained another famous in-law when his daughter Maria Shriver married Arnold Schwarzenegger, who then signed on as a model supporter of the Special Olympics.

Sargent Shriver died in a Maryland hospital after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Shriver’s “New American Army”

Pierre Salinger — White House Press Secretary to U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — once said that it was the late, spectacular, “Sarge Shriver’s hope… his most fervent prayer, that the Peace Corps evolve into the new American army…. When his brother-in-law proclaimed, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you…’ Sarge delivered the answer.”

Go to God dear man, you were one of a kind because you made this world a finer place for having been here…

When aging liberals (like me) and young progressives think longingly of “Camelot” and the “Great Society,” we most often have a mental picture of the Kennedy brothers, but perhaps the purest representative of that era of Big Government Idealism was a devoted brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver.

Time Magazine wrote,

Hardly a starry-eyed program was launched in the 1960s without Shriver’s imprint:

  • He took John F. Kennedy’s campaign promise of a volunteer youth corps and turned it into the Peace Corps, serving as its first director.
  • After JFK’s assassination, while pugnacious Robert F. Kennedy was making his gradual journey leftward, Shriver put his stamp on the Great Society.
  • As first Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, he launched:
  1. the VISTA program (billed as a domestic Peace Corps),
  2. the Job Corps,
  3. Head Start,
  4. the Community Action Program and
  5. designed the initiatives in the War on Poverty.

The best of his ideas have endured. Head Start has enrolled more than 27 million needy children over the years in programs that prepare them to succeed in school. Kids in Head Start also get connected to health care resources and eat nutritious meals during the day. And by encouraging parents to volunteer in the classroom, Head Start benefits the home as well. Meanwhile, the Peace Corps has sent more than 200,000 volunteers into more than 75 countries.

Working for Peace yet accepting the obligation to fight for it, Sarge set the example, as well. Like many citizens raised between the world wars, Shriver was a searcher for peace. He worked to keep the U.S. out of World War II almost up to the day Pearl Harbor was bombed — and then he shipped out with the Navy. He was a gunner at Guadalcanal.

After the war, the bright young lawyer caught the eye of the legendary Wall Street wizard Joseph P. Kennedy, who soon put Shriver to work helping to manage the lucrative Chicago Merchandise Mart, one of Kennedy’s best investments. Shriver joined the family in 1953, marrying Eunice Kennedy

Shriver proved his best talents were for the true family business — politics — first managing John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary campaign in West Virginia, a critical win on JFK’s way to the White House. He led the Kennedy’s political strategy and efforts from that time forward, yet failing to ignite his own political career in the shadows of giant Kennedy brothers.

Only as an afterthought, in a moment of desperation, did Shriver get the nod to run for Vice President to George McGovern. His 1976 presidential bid went nowhere.

In the private sector, he was a key figure in the global growth of his late wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s great legacy, the Special Olympics, which has been instrumental in changing the way people with disabilities are treated and valued.

Before he was struck by Alzheimer’s disease, Shriver was perhaps best known as the father of former California First Lady Maria Shriver, wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger — always an in-law.

There was always a sense of “what if” about Sargent Shriver, because he was handsome and strong-jawed and vigorous just like his better-known relatives.

He was the true liberal who led the desegregation of the Chicago schools back in the 1950s, when the Kennedy brothers were still hedging on issues of civil rights.

He was the youthful peace activist in the Administrations that escalated America’s involvement in Vietnam.

For liberals, Sargent Shriver was the most magnificent liberal and, to me, what a true American should strive toward.

He was The American Idealist — Rest in peace, good man.


Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. (November 9, 1915 – January 18, 2011) an American politician and activist.


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