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Remembering Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 16:19 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, died earlier today at the age of 88.

The fifth of Rose Fitzgerald and Joseph Kennedy’s nine children and the sister of two United States Senators and a President, Shriver might have had a tremdous political career in her own right but for the inherent and persistent sexism within the Kennedy family. Undaunted, she found other ways to do what she believed in, most notably by founding Special Olympics in 1968 as a means of changing public perception of mentally retarded people like her older sister, Rosemary. Just last year she credited the unfairness she witnessed and experienced as having affected the way she lived her life.

But in a strange way perhaps, my life is also about the adversity I encountered. I believe I am even lucky that I experienced the sting of rejection as a woman who was told that real power was not for me. I am lucky that I saw my mother and my sister Rosemary treated with the most unbearable rejection. I am lucky that I confronted political and social injustice against people with intellectual disabilities all over the world throughout my career.

As much as she was an activist and advocate for the mentally disabled, she was also ardently feminist and pro-life. Her above-referenced remarks included a reference to her pro-life beliefs, a polite but clear rebuke to people who maintain that disability is a valid reason for abortion or who abandon the disabled after birth.

And let us be clear: despite all the progress of recent years, our special friends are still under threat. Some would rather eliminate them than improve the quality of life. Others would rather cut costs than create real opportunity. Still others would just rather move on. For our part, let us make our stand on human dignity. Let us make our stand on justice.

I am particularly aware of Shriver’s pro-life work because of her support and help to Feminists for Life of America at a time when the organization was growing and changing, a time during which I was involved at the national level. FFL honored her as a "Remarkable Pro-Life Woman" and today issued a statement about her death, noting her constant commitment to women’s and pro-life causes.

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum founder Carol Crossed introduced FFL President Serrin M. Foster to Ms. Shriver at a pro-life dinner in 1994. "Ms. Shriver asked me to help organize an event in her home honoring Mary Cunningham Agee of the Nurturing Network. I was happy to help host an event for an organization focused on serving pregnant women in college and in the workplace."

A child of privilege, Eunice Kennedy Shriver grew up to be an unwavering voice for the unprivileged. Her contributions will long outlive her.

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