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Special Shriver, smile creator
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 08 - 2009

Abeer Anwar mourns the death of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a leader in the worldwide movement to improve and enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities, died last week at the age of 88.
Shriver died in Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts, surrounded by her family: her husband, R. Sargent Shriver, her five children -- Robert Bobby Sargent Shriver III, Maria Owings Shriver, Timothy Perry Shriver, Mark Kennedy Shriver and Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver -- as well as their spouses and all of her 19 grandchildren.
The younger sister of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Shriver was the founder and honorary chairwoman of Special Olympics and executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr Foundation. She was married to Sargent Shriver.
With her vision of life she was able, during more than six decades, to change the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, their families and communities, using sports as the catalyst for respect, acceptance and inclusion.
Born in Brooklie, Massachusetts, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Eunice Mary Kennedy received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Following graduation, she worked for the US State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court. In 1957, Shriver took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr Foundation.
On a steamy 20 July afternoon in 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver strode to the microphone at Soldier Field in Chicago and convened the first Special Olympics Games. It was only seven weeks after her younger brother, Robert, had been gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
With a crowd of fewer than 100 people dotting the 85,000-seat stadium, about 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada, all of them routinely classified in those days as mentally retarded, marched in the opening ceremonies and followed Shriver as she recited what is still the Special Olympics oath:
Let me win
but if I cannot win
let me be brave
in the attempt
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who would become a polarising figure at the convention that August, attended the four-day event and told Shriver, "You know, Eunice, the world will never be the same after this."
While skeptics shook their heads and most of the press ignored the unprecedented competition, Shriver boldly predicted that one million of the world's intellectually challenged would someday compete athletically.
She was wrong. Today, more than three million Special Olympic athletes are training year-round in all 50 states and 181 countries. They run races, toss softballs, lift weights, ski moguls, volley tennis balls and pirouette on skates. There are the World Winter Games, the most recent in Boise, Idaho, in February, and the World Summer Games, which will be staged next in Athens in 2011.
Special Olympics have also invaded the globe through its seven regions advocating the idea of decentralisation and helping to attract more athletes from around the world.
Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, honourary chairwoman of SO Egypt, sent a message of condolences expressing her "great sorrow over the death of a woman that gave all her life to the welfare of the mentally disabled."
The message was delivered by Ayman Abdel-Wahab, regional manager of SO Middle East and North Africa, who flew to the US to attend Shriver's funeral.
"We have lost the flame that used to light our way," Abdel-Wahab said. "She has taught us a lot and we'll always follow in her footsteps to provide the disabled a prosperous life. God bless her soul and help us all at Special Olympics to continue her mission."
Documentaries, Wide-World-of-Sports presentations, after-school TV specials, feature films, cross-aisle Congressional teamwork and relentlessly positive global word of mouth have educated the planet about Special Olympics and the capabilities of the sort of individuals who were once locked away in institutions. Schooling, medical treatment and athletic training have all changed for people with intellectual disabilities as a result of Shriver's vision; more important, so have minds, attitudes and laws.
Recognised throughout the world for her efforts on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities, Shriver received several awards: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion of Honor, the Priz de la Couronne Francaise, the Mary Lasker Award, the Philip Murray-William Green Award (presented to Eunice and Sargent Shriver by the AFL-CIO), the AAMD Humanitarian Award, the NRPAS National Volunteer Service Award, the Laetare Medal of the University of Notre Dame, the Order of the Smile of Polish Children, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedom from Want Award, The National Women's Hall of Fame, the Laureus Sports Award, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Theodore Roosevelt Award, and the International Olympic Committee Award.
On 24 March 1984 US President Reagan awarded Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, for her work on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities, and in, 2005 she was honoured for her work with Special Olympics as one of the first recipients of a sidewalk medallion on The Extra Mile Point of Light Pathway in Washington DC.
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed upon her the title Dame of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great.


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