Sargent Shriver: Another Giant Has Fallen

By George Mitrovich 1-19-2011

Sargent Shriver was one of the most attractive, dynamic, and accomplished men of his time. When President John F. Kennedy chose Mr. Shriver to create the Peace Corps in 1961, it was a brilliant choice. That Mr. Shriver was the husband of the president's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, didn't hurt, but Sargent Shriver was his own person -- and then some.

Fifty-years later it's impossible to capture the excitement brought by the Kennedy administration to American public life, but it was huge and it was real and it captured an entire generation of young men and women, who, coming of age during the seemingly lifeless years of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency, were ready for something that engaged their interests and excited their imaginations, and the young president did that -- so too did Sargent Shriver.

In the most memorable inaugural address ever given, President Kennedy famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It was a challenge no president before or since had put before the American people, and the Peace Corps became a means of answering that call to service -- and thousands did.

It was everything good about America -- an embodiment of our ideals, the promise inherent in our beginnings as a nation come to life -- and the dynamic of Sargent Shriver's dazzling persona was the perfect fit.

Mr. Shriver spent five years leading the Peace Corps, and while other able public servants would follow, no one would ever again equal his stature. Sargent Shriver as the Peace Corps' first director gives lie to the spurious claim that "no one is indispensable." Yes they are -- and Sargent Shriver was.

He would follow his unforgettable run as head of the Peace Corps by becoming, at President Lyndon Johnson's behest, leader of the war on poverty in the new Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO).

Patricia Sullivan and Emma Brown, writing in the Washington Post, said of Mr. Shriver's leadership, "The OEO developed and implemented signature anti-poverty programs that still exist. Among them are Head Start, which aims to prepare poor children for kindergarten; Volunteers in Service to America, the domestic Peace Corps; and Job Corps, a youth job-training program."

In the context of our time, when programs to help the disadvantaged and poor are being slashed from the White House and Capitol Hill to state houses and city halls across America, read Ms. Sullivan and Ms. Brown's paragraph again.

Sargent Shriver would continue his extraordinary service to the United States by then becoming our ambassador to France -- and no envoy to America's oldest ally since Benjamin Franklin would excite the French people as much as Sargent Shriver did -- and Eunice being a Kennedy made it all the more exciting.

When South Dakota senator George McGovern chose Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton as his vice-presidential running mate in 1972, no one foresaw the political disaster that would soon follow, as senator Eagleton was forced off the ticket. In the rush to find a replacement and minimize a damning political situation, two names quickly surfaced

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"Sargent Shriver: Another Giant Has Fallen"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads