Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Founder of the Special Olympics, Dies at 88

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who established the Special Olympics in 1968, passed away on August 11th. Sometimes overshadowed by her three brothers, John, Robert, and Edward, Mrs. Shriver nonetheless changed the lives of millions of people with intellectual disabilities. According to her son, Robert, Mrs. Shriver "never ran for office, and she changed the world. Period. End of story."

Mrs. Shriver was inspired to work with people with intellectual disabilities because of her experience growing up with her sister Rosemary, who had minor intellectual disabilities. Although Rosemary was raised at home with her family, she was institutionalized at the age of 23 after a lobotomy ended her ability to live in the community. The public was not aware of Rosemary's story until Mrs. Shriver published an article about her sister in the Saturday Evening Post in 1962. Around this same time, Mrs. Shriver was contacted by the mother of a child with intellectual disabilities who could not find a camp that would accept her child. Mrs. Shriver responded by establishing her own camp for such children.

As executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, Mrs. Shriver advanced the cause of people with intellectual disabilities, leading to the formation of the National Institute of Child Health and Development. But Mrs. Shriver is best known for inaugurating the Special Olympics in 1968. Millions of people with special needs compete in their local Special Olympics, all with the goal of qualifying for the world games. About 1,000 athletes participated in those first games in Chicago, a far cry from the roughly 7,500 who participated in the 2007 games. Through the Special Olympics, Mrs. Shriver also led the fight for greater rights for people with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics' visibility contributed to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To read Mrs. Shriver's obituary in the New York Times, click here.

To view the Special Olympics Web site devoted to Mrs. Shriver, click here.

Article Last Modified: 08/23/2009