When I learned that Eunice Kennedy Shriver had passed away early this morning after a life very well lived, I thought of two memories.
First, when my wife and I and then two children moved to Washington, DC 15 years ago, Mrs. Shriver, who had had sons graduate from Georgetown Prep (where I was then head), called my wife — with that very sharp Bostonian accent of hers — and invited us over to her home. Her daughter had just flown in from California with her husband for the weekend, and their children were roughly our children’s age. Neither of us at the time actually knew who these Californians were, not that it would have mattered, but because of a previously scheduled commitment, we weren’t able to spend that Saturday with the Shrivers.
In hindsight I realize that I dodged a bullet that weekend. You know how small kids often say, “My daddy is older than or bigger than or stronger than your daddy.” I think that I would not have measured up all that well next to “The Terminator.” My kids might have been psychologically scarred for life!
Second, a friend of ours who has a daughter with down syndrome, once invited us to come to one of Lucy’s basketball games. On a sleepy Saturday morning, we showed up to cheer Lucy on, and there in the middle of the gym was Mark Shriver, Eunice’s son, coordinating all of the activity. His young sons were there also, coaching the teams, playing with the kids, and having a great time.
It’s easy to be cynical these days. And it’s easy to be critical of the Kennedy’s. But when I think about that cold Saturday morning, it puts a little spring in my step. Eunice’s son wasn’t just basking in his family’s fame. He was actually there, with the future “special Olympians,” and he and his own children were, as they say, living the mission.
There will be a lot written about Eunice, and I’m sure they’ll mention that she had three brothers killed, that her husband started the Peace Corps, and that she started the Special Olympics movement. But what will stay with me is that Mrs. Shriver was able to not just talk about service and caring for others, but that she was able to instil those values in her own children. A wonderful, wonderful legacy for someone whose son in law is, after all, bigger and stronger than my sons’ daddy.