BETHESDA, Md. – R. Sargent Shriver, the exuberant public servant and Kennedy in-law whose career included directing the Peace Corps, fighting the War on Poverty, ambassador to France and, less successfully, running for office, died Tuesday. He was 95.
Shriver, who announced in 2003 that he had Alzheimer’s disease, had been hospitalized for several days.
One of the last links to President Kennedy’s administration, Shriver’s death comes less than two years after his wife, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died on Aug. 11, 2009, at age 88. The Kennedy family suffered a second blow that same month when Sen. Edward Kennedy died.
Speaking outside Suburban Hospital in Maryland, Anthony Kennedy Shriver said his father was “with my mom now,” and called his parents’ marriage a great love story.
At Eunice Shriver’s memorial service, their daughter Maria Shriver said her father let her mother “rip and he let her roar, and he loved everything about her.” He attended in a wheelchair.
The handsome Shriver was often known first as an in-law – brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy and, late in life, father-in-law of actor-former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But his achievements were historic in their own right and changed millions of lives: the Peace Corps’ first director and the leader of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” out of which came such programs as Head Start and Legal Services.
In public, Shriver spoke warmly of his famous in-laws, but the private relationship was often tense. As noted in Scott Stossel’s “Sarge,” an authorized 2004 biography, he was a faithful man amid a clan of womanizers, a sometimes giddy idealist labeled “the house Communist” by the family. His willingness to work for Johnson was seen as betrayal by some family members.
Though the Kennedys granted Shriver power, they also withheld it.
He had considered running for governor of Illinois in 1960, only to be told the family needed his help for John Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Hubert Humphrey considered him for running mate in the 1968 election, but family resistance helped Humphrey change his mind.
When Shriver finally became a candidate, the results were disastrous: He was George McGovern’s running mate in the 1972 election, but the Democrats lost in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon.
McGovern recalled Tuesday how Shriver managed to raise his spirits the day after they lost so decisively.
“He came over and put an arm around me and said, ‘Well, George we lost 49 states, but we didn’t lose our souls,’ ” McGovern remembered.
In 1994, Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.