May 30, 2004: Headlines: Peace Corps Directors - Shriver: Baltimore Sun: Sargent Shriver: a life of involvement

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Sargent Shriver: a life of involvement

Sargent Shriver: a life of involvement

Sargent Shriver: a life of involvement

Sargent Shriver: a life of involvement

By Edwin O. Guthman
Special To The Sun
Originally published May 30, 2004
Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver, by Scott Stossel. Smithsonian. 704 pages. $32.50.

Fate dealt Sargent Shriver two hands, and Scott Stossel, a senior editor at Atlantic Monthly, has written a very interesting and incredibly detailed account of Shriver's remarkable record of public service and somewhat turbulent life as a Kennedy in-law.

One hand of fate groomed Shriver for intense, persistent leadership. His forebears had participated vigorously in Maryland politics since Colonial days and fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War (though Shriver's grandfather, Herbert Shriver, was a Confederate soldier). Shriver, born in 1915, grew to manhood in a family that was keenly involved in Democratic Party politics and devoutly Roman Catholic.

He attended Yale University, where he became chairman of the Yale Daily News. He went on to Yale Law School and, after finishing his bar exam in September 1941, reported for duty as a Navy ensign and saw extensive combat in World War II.

The other hand of fate ensnared him in 1946, when he was an assistant editor at Newsweek magazine and Joseph P. Kennedy, the controversial, highly successful major-domo of the Kennedy family, asked him to read the letters and diaries of Joe Jr., who had been killed test-flying a plane over Belgium in World War II.

Then Shriver accepted a job offer from Kennedy, who, after a few months at the end of 1946, sent Shriver to be his representative at what was then the building with the largest floor area in the world - the Merchandise Mart in Chicago - that Kennedy recently had purchased. That led to marriage to Kennedy's daughter, Eunice, a brilliant activist in social causes and politics; involvement in Illinois politics and presidencies of the Chicago School Board and the Catholic Interracial Council; and a part in the political agendas of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy, which had its ups and downs - all thoroughly and insightfully reported by Stossel.

In 1960 Shriver abandoned his career and plans to run for governor of Illinois to work in JFK's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and the presidency, and when JFK sought to implement a campaign promise to create a "peace corps" of young Americans willing to serve overseas, he chose Shriver to study the feasibility of and then form and lead such an agency, which Shriver did with remarkable leadership and energy.

After JFK's death, President Lyndon Johnson, who had helped Shriver get the first Peace Corps appropriation through Congress, picked him to head LBJ's War on Poverty, and for the second time in three years Shriver created a new federal agency from scratch and for several years led both energetically.

Thereafter, Shriver's career had its ups and downs. LBJ sent him to Paris as ambassador with the difficult challenge of improving relations with French President Charles de Gaulle. Then followed two unsuccessful political ventures - as Sen. George McGovern's vice presidential candidate in 1972 and an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. But he remained highly active as a lawyer and political insider and, with Eunice, deeply involved in the Special Olympics.

Shriver's contribution to the nation may be news to many readers, but Stossel has recounted Shriver's role with a fullness that brings light and meaning to politics and governing in 20th-century America.

Edwin O. Guthman, a professor at the University of Southern California school of journalism, was editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1977 to 1987. Before that, he worked at the Los Angeles Times, The Seattle Times and the Seattle Star. He was press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy when RFK was U.S. attorney general and when he first ran for the U.S. Senate. He has edited and written several books, including We Band of Brothers in 1971.

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Story Source: Baltimore Sun

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