By David Saltonstall
DAILY NEWS SENIOR CORRESPONDENT
Eunice Shriver, a sister of President John K. Kennedy whose founding of the Special Olympics inspired millions of people with disabilities to go for the gold, died Tuesday morning at a Massachusetts hospital.
Her death came after members of her storied clan—among them her daughter, Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, and her husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—rushed to her side at Cape Cod Hospital in recent days.
The 88-year-old Shriver organized the first Special Olympics in 1968, inspired in large part by the struggles of her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary.
"You are the stars and the world is watching you," Shriver said in kicking off the 1987 games. "By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory."
Tuesday, the tributes started to pour in from both the powerful and the powerless as the many she touched paused to pay their respects.
"We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit," her family members said in a statement released to the media.
"Thank you, Mrs. Shriver, for teaching all of us how to find what we can do, instead of what we can't do," wrote one Special Olympian on Shriver's Web site.
"The country has been blessed with all you've done for those less fortunate than most," wrote another. "God bless."
The Special Olympics grew into one of the world's most celebrated charities, offering 3 million people with special needs the forums—and the encouragement—to compete athletically in some 30 summer and winter sports.
Perhaps the games' oath summed up Shriver's philosophy best: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
She was awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan because of her work. She later became the only woman to have her portrait appear, during her lifetime, on a U.S. coin—the 1995 commemorative Special Olympics silver dollar.
At a tribute to her at The Kennedy Presidential Library in 2007, Shriver credited her life's path to her parents, "who loved me and made me believe in possibilities."
But she gave the greatest credit to her sister, Rosemary, and the "unbearable rejection" young Rosemary endured as a person born mentally retarded.
"I hope that many of you will join in my special mission to make the world safe for people with intellectual disabilities," Shriver concluded, "and to make the world safe for human dignity."
The fifth of nine children to Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy, the 88-year-old Shriver lived in Hyannis Port, near the historic family compound where her sole surviving brother, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, continues to battle brain cancer.
A graduate of Stanford University, Shriver was married in 1953 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr., who later became the driving force behind the Peace Corps.
- More coverage from the New York Daily News.