Tributes from around the world continue to pour in for Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away yesterday at age 88. National Right to Life would like to add ours.
NRLC veterans remember when Mrs. Shriver attended the Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner in 1994 which honored John Cardinal O’Conner and Nancy DeMoss of The Arthur DeMoss Foundation. The following year Mrs. Shriver, along with her husband, Sargent Shriver, served as Honorary Chairpersons for the Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner that honored Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Mrs. Shriver is best known, of course, for being the driving force behind the Special Olympics. Like all revolutions, what seems ordinary now was a breathtaking change in understanding 30 and 40 years ago.
The most telling reminiscences have not been from high-powered political insiders, although as a sister of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy, she no doubt had access to them all. They are from ordinary citizens whose children’s lives were made immensely richer because of the power of the Special Olympics’ example
We have many miles to go before we fully treat people with disabilities with the kind of generosity and respect that is owed them simply because they are fellow members of the human family. But that the journey has begun at all is in no small measure the result of the labors of Mrs. Shriver.
We forget how the prevailing thought at the time was that children with mental retardation should be excluded from physical activity out of fear that these kids might injure themselves. But in her address at the opening ceremony of the first Special Olympics in 1968, just weeks after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Mrs. Shriver said “The Chicago Special Olympics prove a very fundamental fact, the fact that exceptional children — children with mental retardation — can be exceptional athletes, the fact that through sports they can realize their potential for growth.”
There could be no more fitting ending than the concluding paragraphs of her family’s statement on her passing:
Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing ─ searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.
We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit. At this time of loss, we feel overwhelmed by the gifts of prayer and support poured out to us from so many who loved her. We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always.
She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.