Tim Shriver, Eunice Kennedy Shriver's son, talks about his mother and her legacy, the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver celebrates her 85th birthday this week.
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Some 3,000 athletes competed in Ames, Iowa, earlier this month in the Special Olympics USA National Games. In attendance, along with 30,000 other spectators, was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the driving force behind the event.
She founded the Special Olympics in 1968, to provide sports instruction and athletic competition for mentally-disabled adults and children. She presided over the first games that year.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, Founder, Special Olympics:
… in Ancient Rome, the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
Those words now form the Special Olympian Oath. To date, over 2 million competitors, from more than 150 countries, have competed in the games.
Shriver's lifelong activism on the part of the mentally disabled stems in part from personal experience. She was the fifth of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's nine children. Her older sister, Rosemary, was reportedly mildly retarded. She underwent a lobotomy at age 23 and was incapacitated for the rest of her life.
Rosemary was largely kept out of the public eye, but in 1962, Eunice Shriver wrote a candid article about Rosemary and mental retardation in an issue of the Saturday Evening Post. The article is widely credited with easing the social stigma associated with mental retardation.
Shriver was in the Oval Office in 1963 when her brother, President John F. Kennedy, signed civil service regulations making it easier for people with intellectual disabilities to work.
Throughout the last four decades, she's been an ardent champion for the mentally disabled. Her tireless work on their behalf has been recognized nationally and internationally.
Among her many honors is the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She got it from Ronald Reagan in 1984. This month, on her 85th birthday, President Bush and Mrs. Bush hosted a black-tie dinner at the White House in recognition of Shriver's lifelong work.
EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER:
Let us not forget that we have miles to go to overturn the prejudice and oppression facing the world's 180 million citizens with intellectual disability.
But for what joy, for together as we go forward, all of us, may you each continue to spend your lives in this noble battle. May you overturn ignorance; may you challenge indifference at every turn; and may you find great joy in the new daylight of the great athletes of the Special Olympics.
Thank you, and God bless us all.