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New Biography of Sargent Shriver
New Biography of Sargent Shriver
Bio seeks to raise Shriver's reputation
Friday, April 16, 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) -- R. Sargent Shriver reclines cheerfully behind a well-papered table in his office at the Special Olympics, the program for athletes with mental disabilities founded by wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
He is 88 and quite the looker, with his pinstripe suit and dashing smile, his white hair brushed back in rakish fashion. Although diagnosed last year with Alzheimer's, he remains most engaged in conversation, with the easy laughter of a man used to events turning out for the best.
A copy of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code rests at his elbow but his current reading material is entirely more personal. Shriver holds a new biography by Scott Stossel, a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly with whom Shriver is friendly. The book's subject is a man Shriver knows even better -- Sargent Shriver.
"Stossel's book will be required reading for anyone interested in the political affairs of 20th century America and the story of the Kennedy dynasty," Shriver notes with mock delight, reading a blurb from the back cover.
"How about that!" he calls out, as if the whole affair were a practical joke. He then glances at the foreword by Bill Moyers, a former White House aide and television commentator.
"'He changed my life,"' Shriver reads, and then laughs. "I always had great admiration for Bill Moyers."
But what Shriver regards with characteristic amusement, his own reputation, is a most serious matter to others. Stossel's book, Sarge, seeks to establish Shriver as among the most overlooked public figures of modern times, a government official of singular achievement who has been reduced by many to a charming but glib Kennedy in-law.
Within the family and within the government, he has been a man who got things done. When the newly elected president John F. Kennedy needed someone to recruit members for his cabinet, he appointed Shriver. When Jackie Kennedy needed an organizer for the funeral of her murdered husband, she asked Shriver.
The Peace Corps was a Kennedy initiative, but Shriver quickly built it into a respected international volunteer organization. The War on Poverty was a signature part of president Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, but Shriver was the real architect, creating such enduring programs as Legal Services and Head Start, inspiring thousands to become teachers, poverty lawyers and foster grandparents.
"I don't know of any American who has not been president who left so many important institutions that have made such a real difference in our society," says Mickey Kantor, a longtime Shriver friend who started out in Legal Services and later served as secretary of commerce under president Bill Clinton.
The Special Olympics offices in downtown Washington serve as both a tribute to the athletes and as an unofficial Kennedy-Shriver shrine. Family pictures hang everywhere. The Shrivers have been married 50 years and still banter like actors in a drawing room comedy. He is relaxed and flirtatious, she is intense and businesslike at age 82.
Stossel's biography allows Shriver to have some fun at his wife's expense, especially when he comes upon this statement from political commentator Mark Shields, "If Sarge had married Susie Glotz, he would have been . . . a national figure in his own right."
"It's all my fault," Eunice says dryly.
"What was she like?" teases Sarge, knowing well there was no "Susie Glotz."
"She was short. . . . You wouldn't have liked her."
"Thank you," he responds, with a slight bow, "for taking me away!"
As much as anyone, Shriver embodies the New Frontier spirit of the 1960s, but his fame doesn't compare to that of the Kennedy brothers. Supporters cite several reasons: He never held elected office, he is modest about his own achievements, his private life offers none of the pizazz that makes the Kennedys prized subjects for countless authors and journalists.
"The great scandal with Sargent Shriver, you might say, is that there is no scandal," says Laurence Leamer, author of three Kennedy books, most recently Sons of Camelot.
The Kennedys have a touchy history with authorized biographers, notably William Manchester, who in the '60s was asked to write a book on John F. Kennedy, only to have the family threaten to block publication because he wouldn't make proposed changes. But Stossel, who thoroughly documents Shriver's often tense relationship with his in-laws, says he met only minor objections.
Stossel is among several Shriver admirers who wonder if Shriver would have achieved even more had he not married a Kennedy. Throughout the '60s, Shriver was repeatedly cited as a political candidate only to meet resistance from the Kennedys.
When Shriver finally ran for office, with limited support from the Kennedys, the results were embarrassing: He was George McGovern's running mate in the 1972 election, when the Democrats lost in a landslide to president Richard Nixon. Four years later, Shriver's own presidential campaign ended quickly, overrun by a then-little known Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter. His failures as a candidate left him with a reputation as a charming, but shallow salesman.
"Over the years, I've tried to get people to write a book about Shriver," says Charles Peters, an aide to Shriver in the Peace Corps and later founder of the Washington Monthly. "But I couldn't get anybody interested. He had this image of being a Boy Scout, not to be taken seriously."
Denying any family conflict, Eunice Shriver says she's not sorry her husband never became president and that the main reason he didn't run sooner was because he didn't want to.
She noted that her brothers often took on campaigns despite opposition, citing John Kennedy's 1952 Senate run against one of Massachusetts' most popular politicians, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
"If you're going to do it, you're going to do it," she says. "We didn't all run around trying to make up our minds. It was just, 'I'm running,' and bang, off he went."
Sargent Shriver is a Shriver, not a Kennedy, supporters like to say: a faithful man amid a clan of womanizers, a sometimes giddy idealist labelled "the house Communist" by a family that respected the cool and the tough.
An old story defines the difference between the Shrivers and the Kennedys: Shriver's son, Robert, had fallen and hurt himself during a family get-together and began sobbing.
"Kennedys don't cry!" Robert Kennedy called out.
"That's OK," countered Sargent Shriver, "You can cry. You're a Shriver."
Family members say Shriver still regularly comes to his Special Olympics office, reads all the papers, writes letters and wishes only he could do more. He expresses no bitterness about never being president.
"The truth is it took a lot of cajoling for him to get to work on this book. Neither he nor my mother have the patience for looking backward," son Timothy Shriver, now CEO of the Special Olympics, says.
"He would always say, 'I want this book to be about the future.' And we'd say, 'Dad, to get to the future, it would be a little helpful to get people to look at the past.' "
© The Canadian Press 2004
|By Ken Rustad Bolivia 62-64 (1cust58.tnt1.farmington.nm.da.uu.net - 126.96.36.199) on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 12:51 am: Edit Post|
Peace Corps headquarters should be named "Shriver-Ruppe." This would be bi-partisan and reflect the spirt of the Peace Corps. Paul Coverdell does not rank near the top of the Peace Corps Directors in my esteem. He was an old grouch.
|By Miguel Eduardo Gomez/Pacheco (megomez) (wcfc.ocio.usda.gov - 188.8.131.52) on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 - 3:52 pm: Edit Post|
You should talk Ken. Everyone around Farmington, & Shiprock say your the biggist grouch around...must be your shadow figure?! Go see a shrink & deal with your own personal issues instead of pontificating at the expense of others.