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Special Olympics Founder Eunice Shriver Dies

August 12 2009 | by

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

From the Los Angeles Times:

Eunice Shriver, whose advocacy for the mentally disabled helped bring people with special needs into the mainstream of American life, died Tuesday at 88.

Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy and the mother of California first lady Maria Shriver, died at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

President Obama called Shriver “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.”

Shriver’s advocacy for the mentally disabled has been called the Kennedy family’s most important campaign.

The 1968 founding of the Special Olympics, which grew out of a summer camp Shriver started at her family farm in suburban Maryland, went a long way toward erasing long-held stigmas that the Kennedy family knew well because Eunice had a sister, Rosemary, who was mentally disabled.

With a family foundation behind her and a brother in the White House, Shriver pushed mental retardation onto the national agenda in the early 1960s. The federal money that was unleashed resulted in research breakthroughs and a proliferation of educational programs.

Eunice Mary Kennedy — known within the family as “Puny Eunie” — was born July 10, 1921, at home in Brookline, Mass. She was the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

At a cocktail party in New York City in 1946, she met Sargent Shriver Jr., a Navy veteran who married her in 1953. He went on to head the Peace Corps, and was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1972.

Besides her four sons and a daughter, Shriver is survived by her husband, 93, who has Alzheimer’s disease; brother Edward; sister Jean Kennedy Smith; and 19 grandchildren.

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