The Kennedy family has lost another member. Eunice Kennedy Shriver died at age 88 this morning at a hospital on Cape Cod. She was surrounded by her husband, her five children, and all 19 of her grandchildren. Shriver suffered a series of strokes in recent years, and has been in failing health for some time.
Shriver was the fifth of the nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. While the men in the family all entered politics, Shriver took another route to serve the family's long history of public service. Inspired by her oldest sister Rosemary's mental illness, she worked as an activist for the mentally disabled. She is credited with changing the public's view of them, from people who are institutionalized (as Rosemary had), to part of the community.
In 1968, she founded the Special Olympics, 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.
In a statement, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is battling a brain tumor, said of his sister:
"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."
President 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 human spirit."
Shriver's husband, Sargent Shriver, was the Vice Presidential candidate in 1972 on the losing ticket with George McGovern. One of her children is Maria Shriver, the former NBC newswoman who is married to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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 Olympics."
Joseph Kennedy was hoping to build a political dynasty that would last for generations. His children and their offspring suffered various fates. And now with the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, there are just two siblings left -- the two youngest, Jean Kennedy Smith, and Ted Kennedy.