Chicago mourns Eunice Kennedy Shriver

August 12, 2009 4:26:10 AM PDT
The death of Eunice Kennedy Shriver was being mourned in Chicago and across the country.The woman who helped make the Special Olympics an international event had a special connection to the city.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver moved to Chicago in 1952 to help her father create a special home for mentally disabled boys.

Shriver met her husband Sargent Shriver here.

While her brothers are the famous ones, Eunice Kennedy Shriver's inspiration for her lifelong work for the disabled was her older sister, Rosemary, who was mentally challenged.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the fifth of the nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Those who knew her say she may have been the toughest of the Kennedy clan. Shriver took that energy and strength and devoted her life to improving the lives of the mentally disabled.

"Her journey through life should be remembered for her gift to the world and that is hope for persons with disabilities," said Anne Burke, Illinois Supreme Court Justice.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke was a 23-year-old teacher of disabled children when she wrote Eunice Shriver in 1968 about an idea to hold a track event for the disabled in Chicago. Shriver signed on and the rest is history. The first Special Olympics was held at Soldier Field.

Kevin O'Brien competed and has hundreds of medals to show off.

"Mrs. Shriver challenged the athletes constantly," said O'Brien.

Illinois Special Olympics CEO Doug Snyder says Shriver was one of the hardest workers and was very hands on.

"She was in the office, one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. She wanted to know what wasgoing on almost to a fault because she wanted to be involved in everything," said Snyder.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver's Chicago roots run deep. She moved here in 1952 and met her husband Sargent Shriver, who worked at the Kennedy-owned Merchandise Mart. The couple lived just around the corner from Winnie Clark's Streeterville apartment. What struck Clark about the Shrivers was how ordinary they were.

"They weren't snooty, they weren't cold, they weren't phony. They just were what you see is what you get," said Clark.

Clark says Eunice Shriver would attend Mass at Holy Name Cathedral every day. Clark says Shriver would sit in the same pew in the back of the church.

The Shrivers moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C. in 1960. However, they returned to Chicago often for the Special Olympics and society Eunice Shriver founded that benefits organizations for the disabled.

Ill. remembers Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a champion for people with disabilities who was part of the Special Olympics in Chicago.

Shriver passed away early Tuesday morning.

She had suffered several strokes in recent years. Her family says her body was weak but her heart was full and her work will live on for years to come. And in that work she leaves a legacy that has changed the lives of millions of people all around the world.

Shriver will be forever linked with the Special Olympic movement, which began in Chicago.

On Tuesday, people associated with the organization in Illinois were mourning her passing.

"We lost a great lady who not only created the Special Olympics but was its voice for millions of athletes throughout her lifetime," said Kathy McLaughlin, Illinois Special Olympics.

Shriver started the Special Olympics in Chicago in 1968 after watching her sister Rosemary, who was intellectually disabled. She wanted to prove that these youngsters could achieve what had before been believed was unachievable. The first Games were held at Soldier Field, a two-day event that drew a thousand athletes from the U.S. and Canada.

"She wanted society to not only understand and accept people with disabilities but embrace them as well to provide them with opportunities to grow and inclusion and absolutely she was powerful in her success with that," McLaughlin said.

On Tuesday, there are 22,000 Special Olympians in Illinois alone, and 3 million world wide.

Last year, the organization celebrated its 40th anniversary with ceremonies held at Soldier Field. It was a chance to reflect on all that the Games have meant to so many families.

"My brother has been an athlete with Special Olympics for probably 25 years. So my family can speak firsthand about how important Special Olympics has been, not only to Mike but to our whole family," said McLaughlin.

Shriver's son Tim is now the CEO of the Special Olympics. In a statement released Tuesday, he said in part, '"she believed that people with intellectual disabilities could--individually and collectively--achieve more than anyone thought possible. This much she knew with unbridled faith and certainty. And this faith in turn gave her hope that their future might be radically different."

"She was a great lady, lots of fun, very sharp intellectual, always on the go, tremendous person," McLaughlin said.

President Barack Obama also released a statement that called Shriver "a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation--and the world--that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit."

Shriver leaves behind her husband - the ailing Sergeant Shriver, her daughter Maria and four sons.

She was 88 years old.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley released a statement on Eunice Kennedy Shriver's death Tuesday morning.

"On behalf of all Chicagoans I extend my condolences to the family and friends of Eunice Shriver. She was an extraordinary woman and we are fortunate that in the 1950's she called Chicago home and contributed greatly to our city's progress. Establishing the Special Olympics 41 years ago she started a movement that has made a positive impact on the lives of millions of athletes around the world. She was a caring person whose compassion for others knew few boundaries, there can be no doubt she helped to make our country a better place." -Mayor Richard Daley

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