BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty with People in America in VOA Special
English. Today we tell about Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She was a member of one of
the most famous families in American politics. She used her influence to make a
difference in the lives of millions of people. Though she never ran for office,
she spent her life energetically working to improve the lives of people with
Eunice Shriver was best known for creating the Special Olympics, an athletic
event for people with mental disabilities. Her efforts changed the way the world
thinks about the mentally disabled.
EUNICE SHRIVER: “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your
presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A
message of hope, a message of victory. The right to play on any playing field.
You have earned it. The right to study in any school. You have earned it. The
right to hold a job? You have earned it. The right to be anyone’s neighbor. You
have earned it.”
FAITH LAPIDUS: That was Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the nineteen
eighty-seven Special Olympics games in South Bend, Indiana. She was a thin and
energetic woman with a huge smile and great spirit.
Ms. Shriver officially became involved in helping people with developmental
problems when she became the executive vice-president of a family organization
in nineteen fifty-seven. The Joseph P. Kennedy Junior Foundation was created in
nineteen forty-six to honor her oldest brother, who died fighting in World War
Under her guidance, the foundation turned its attention to studying the
causes of mental disabilities. It also sought to improve the way society treats
people with such disabilities. The foundation also started centers for the study
of medical ethics at Harvard University and Georgetown University.
BOB DOUGHTY: Eunice Shriver and her family had a personal reason to be
interested in this issue. Her older sister, Rosemary Kennedy, was born mentally
retarded. As Rosemary grew older, she became increasingly difficult to live with
and supervise. When she was in her twenties, her father arranged for her to have
an operation on her brain to improve her mental condition. But the operation
left her completely disabled. Her family later sent her to a care center where
she lived until her death in two thousand five.
FAITH LAPIDUS: In the past, mental disability was generally treated as a
shameful and hopeless disease. Many families secretly sent their disabled
children to grow up in institutions. And, there were almost no community
activities, resources or jobs for the mentally disabled. They were shut away
with little respect and few civil rights.
Eunice Shriver changed this. She showed the world that the mentally disabled
could be useful citizens enjoying rich lives.
BOB DOUGHTY: Eunice Mary Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts in
nineteen twenty-one. She was the fifth of nine children born to the Irish
Catholic family of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Her grandfather was John Fitzgerald
who served as mayor of Boston, Massachusetts and as a lawmaker. Eunice’s father
was a wealthy businessman with powerful connections. The Kennedys raised their
children to be highly intelligent and highly competitive.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Eunice Kennedy Shriver once said that her father’s advice to
his children was to win. He said that coming in second or third did not count,
but one had to win, win, win. Mister Kennedy also told his friends that his sons
would one day run for president. And, he was right.
John F. Kennedy became president in nineteen sixty-one and served until his
murder two years later. Robert Kennedy, a senator, ran for president in nineteen
sixty-eight and was killed that same year. Edward Kennedy never won the
presidency, but became a long- serving and important member of the United States
BOB DOUGHTY: Eunice Shriver also carried on the family tradition of public
service. She graduated in nineteen forty-three with a sociology degree from
Stanford University in California. She worked for different organizations as a
social worker before working for her family’s foundation. Over the years, she
also worked for the political campaigns of her brothers, John, Robert and Edward.
In nineteen fifty-three, she married R. Sargent Shriver. They had five children:
Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark and Anthony.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Under the administration of John F. Kennedy, Eunice Shriver
continued her work for her foundation. She influenced her brother to create a
committee to study developmental disabilities. This effort led to the creation
of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National
Institutes of Health.
In nineteen sixty-two, Ms. Shriver published an important article in the
Saturday Evening Post called “Hope for Retarded Children.” She wrote openly
about her sister Rosemary’s condition. For years, this had been a closely
guarded family secret.
Eunice Shriver used Rosemary as an example of how not to treat people with
disabilities. Instead, she said people with mental disabilities needed to be
treated as useful citizens and given special education and training. She said
family members of disabled people had few resources for community support or
medical help. She gave examples of parents who struggled to make a better life
for their disabled children.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: “Think of the families, think of the mothers who love
their children but feel so desperately alone. Their children have done nothing
wrong, committed no crime and perpetuated no injustice. They are the world’s
most innocent victims, and they suffer only because they are different.”
BOB DOUGHTY: Ms. Shriver also opened a summer camp that was free of cost for
mentally retarded children. The idea for it came when a mother told her that
there were no summer camps where she could send her disabled child. So, Eunice
Shriver did something about it.
She started Camp Shriver at her home in Maryland to give disabled children a
fun summer program filled with physical activities. Non-disabled children were
also welcome to join the camp. She made sure there were a large number of
workers to give the necessary attention to all the kids. And, she asked students
from private schools to volunteer at the camp as helpers. Ms. Shriver was
directly involved in all parts of the camp. She would often swim and play ball
with the children.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: "Don't keep them away from something that can change
their lives and give them a new vision and give their parents a new vision of
them, just because they don't want someone in the community to say, 'oh, your
child is special.'"
FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen sixty-eight, Eunice Shriver organized the first
Special Olympics in Chicago, Illinois.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: “In ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena
with these words on their lips: let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave
in the attempt. Today, all of you young athletes are in the arena. Many of you
will win. But even more important, I know you will be brave and bring credit to
your parents and to your country. Let us begin the Olympics, thank you.”
FAITH LAPIDUS: About one thousand competitors from twenty-six states and
Canada took part in the event. They competed in running, swimming and hockey.
The idea of permitting mentally disabled people to compete in sports was
revolutionary at the time. Before, people with special needs were often
prevented from physical activity out of concern that they would hurt themselves
or be unable to compete. Ms. Shriver said that the Special Olympics proved a
very important fact: that exceptional children with mental retardation can be
Today, the Special Olympics has grown to include about three million athletes
in more than one hundred fifty countries.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: "Let us not forget that we have miles to go to
overturn the prejudice and oppression facing the world's one hundred eighty
million citizens with intellectual disabilities."
BOB DOUGHTY: Eunice Kennedy Shriver continued to work for the disabled in
other ways. She created an organization called Community of Caring. It works to
reduce teenage pregnancies and educate students about creating caring and
Ms. Shriver received many awards for her work. These include the French
Legion of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest
Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in August of two thousand nine after a series of
strokes. Her daughter’s husband, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said
that she was the light of the family. And he said her pioneering work for social
and scientific improvements changed the lives of millions of developmentally
disabled people all over the world.
FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. For
transcripts, mp3s and podcasts of our shows, go to voaspecialenglish.com. I’m
BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for People in
America in VOA Special English.