Changing the world for the handicapped


Eunice Kennedy Shriver's efforts to help the handicapped circles the globe

POTOMAC, Md. - What begins as a home filled with photos of presidents and politicians quickly becomes an inviting family portrait.

After all, family has always inspired Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

In speaking up about her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary, she addressed discrimination and inequality.

“Yes, well, I think it was extremely important,” says Shriver. “My brother was president at the time. I asked him if it was OK. He sent it back after I sent it to him, he said there were four corrections and they were all grammar, so I didn't feel too badly.”

Her brother, of course, was President John F. Kennedy.

“He just said, ‘yes I'll do it and I'll do it next month,’” Shriver recalls.

What he did was sign legislation to establish a research center for the mentally handicapped, just weeks after becoming president.

This was an enormously important, but it was just the beginning. For that time, to be talking about such issues publicly was a pretty extraordinary thing.

“I think it was essential,” Shriver says. “It was absolutely essential.”

Shriver has labored on behalf of the mentally disabled ever since. First, a camp for 35 athletes in her own backyard. That effort evolved into the Special Olympics — today, reaching out to more than 2 million.

At the National Games this week in Iowa, Shriver was everywhere.

With competitor Andy Cooper, she encourages self-sufficiency.

“Its your pin. OK? You get that? Now, you put it on yourself,” Shriver said to him after his event.

“He doesn't need anyone to help him,” says Andy’s mom, Marie. “He can do whatever he wants as long as he tries.”

Shriver's games now reach 150 countries, including South Africa.

What motivates her every day?

“I think that everywhere there are handicapped people all over the world,” Shriver says. “Now, where do we stop? And, can I find them? I will find them. I will keep going until I find them.”

Eunice Kennedy Shriver deserves America's praise, gratitude and love. In 1984, Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. And on Monday, she turns 85.

Is she comfortable with talking about her legacy at 85 years old?

“My legacy's my children,” Shriver says. “And, they work in this fight. And, that's enough for me. They're doing a terrific job. That's my legacy. Changing the world for the handicapped everywhere.”

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

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