- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Years before she organized the first Special Olympics in 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver hosted annual summer games for local children with mental disabilities in the backyard of her Rockville, Md., home.

“It was pretty simple and a heck of a lot of fun,” said Tom Songster, retired Special Olympics vice president of special projects and special adviser to Mrs. Shriver. “Her intensity was no greater or less, probably, when she passed as it was in those [early] days.”

Mrs. Shriver, who transformed “Camp Shriver” into an international event, died early Tuesday at Cape Cod Hospital in Massachusetts. The 88-year-old sister of former President John F. Kennedy and a Potomac, Md., resident was surrounded by her husband, former Ambassador Sargent Shriver; her five children, including Maria Shriver; Maria Shriver’s husband, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and 19 grandchildren when she died at the hospital near the Kennedy family compound.

“She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others,” the family said in a statement.

A longtime advocate of the rights of the mentally disabled, Mrs. Shriver has been credited with significantly increasing through the Special Olympics the public’s awareness and understanding of those previously left on the sidelines. The games include the World Special Olympics, attended by thousands of athletes around the world every two years, and annual events held in more than 150 countries.

President Obama said Mrs. Shriver will be remembered as “a champion for people with intellectual disabilities.”

“Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision,” the president said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sargent, their children Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark and Anthony, and the entire Kennedy family.”

Mrs. Shriver’s backyard summer camps were so successful that by 1968 she organized the first Special Olympics games, in Chicago. The event was attended by 1,000 athletes from 26 U.S. states and Canada, who competed in track and field, floor hockey and swimming.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, her sole surviving brother, who has been battling a brain tumor, said the “seeds of compassion and hope she planted decades ago” in her backyard camp were inspired by the struggles of her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary.

“Over the years, she grew those seeds into a worldwide movement that has given persons with disabilities everywhere the opportunity to lead more productive and fulfilling lives,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We would never have had an Americans with Disabilities Act without her.”

Mrs. Shrivers’ friends and associates described her as a kind but extremely dedicated, tough and no-nonsense person who would do almost anything to advance the cause of the mentally disabled.

Monsignor John J. Enzler of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament said Mrs. Shriver never was afraid to ask a tough question - even to a priest.

“She was always sharp, always bright, but she was also very anxious to engage you in discussions in things that were important to her,” said Monsignor Enzler, who was her longtime pastor when he served at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac.

“Anybody who knows her knows she was a tough lady - she wasn’t mean but she was strong-willed. If something wasn’t right, she would call you up and tell you so.”

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