A lion of public service passes away: Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver, who inaugurated the Peace Corps in the early ’60s and shaped it for decades, led a life full of service to others. He passed away yesterday at the age of 95.  In an inspiring life, he also helped launch Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, and the Legal Services Corporation.  And he provided essential leadership to groups like the Special Olympics that his wife Eunice founded.

But more than anything else, he breathed life and vision into JFK’s immortal question “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  By enlisting the talents and energy of a generation of young Americans in the Peace Corps, he brought education, clean drinking water, housing, medical care to some of the poorest countries in the world, and helped the world to see Americans as a shining beacon of hope.

He often said: “”When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived.”

During the JFK Presidential campaign, “Shriver, who had fought for integration in Chicago, helped persuade JFK to make a crucial decision despite other staffers’ fears of a white backlash. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Georgia that fall, Kennedy, urged by Shriver and fellow aide Harris Wofford, phoned King’s wife and offered support. His gesture was deeply appreciated by King’s family and brought the candidate crucial support….

“He was a man of giant love, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment,” the Shriver family said in a statement. “He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place. He centered everything on his faith and his family. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others.”  (Huffington Post)

Shriver said at a 1981 reunion for Peace Corps alumni: “The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. Caring about nuclear war and its victims is the beginning of a cure for our obsession with war. Peace does not comes through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. The practices of peace strengthen us for every vicissitude. . . . The task is immense!”

With many thanks for a life richly led and to someone whose deeds did match his ideals.

See also Colman McCarthy’s “Sargent Shriver’s Grace” (Washington Post Op-Ed, 1/19/11); “What I Learned From Sargent Shriver” (NYT Op-ED, 1/20/11 by Bono)

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