E.K. Shriver Biography

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Doctor of Public Service

The Shriver Center at UMBC, named in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, was created in December 1993, with the mission of mobilizing the talents and resources of higher education to confront and solve the problems facing urban America today. A particular priority of the Center is to develop collaborative projects of service, learning, and research that engage faculty, students, and the community in the complex challenges affecting the quality of life for those most vulnerable among us.

For more than three decades, Eunice Kennedy Shriver worked tirelessly on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities. As Executive Vice President of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, Mrs. Shriver helped achieve many advances in both social policy and general understanding of the issues facing individuals with intellectual disabilities. As Founder and Honorary Chair of Special Olympics International, she began the highly visible international movement so that “a large part of the world sees people with intellectual disabilities as people who can learn, perform, contribute and change our lives for the better.”

Mrs. Shriver led the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation as it established programs, committees, and institutes in order to achieve the Foundation’s mission of seeking the prevention of intellectual disabilities by identifying their causes, while improving the means by which society deals with citizens with these disabilities. Initiatives implemented under Mrs. Shriver’s guidance include the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (1962), changes in Civil Service regulations that allow persons with intellectual disabilities to be hired on the basis of ability rather than test scores (1964), the Special Olympics (1968), major centers for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown Universities (1971), and the “Community of Caring” programs to reduce intellectual disabilities among babies of teenagers (1981-1997).

For her efforts, Mrs. Shriver was recognized with numerous honors and awards. When presenting her with The Presidential Medal of Freedom on March 24, 1984, President Ronald Reagan said, “With enormous conviction and unrelenting effort, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has labored on behalf of America’s least powerful people, those with mental retardation…Her decency and goodness have touched the lives of many, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver deserves America’s praise, gratitude, and love.”

Mrs. Shriver also received the Legion of Honor, The Priz de la Couronne Francaise, the Mary Lasker Award, the Philip Murray-William Green Award (presented to Eunice and Sargent Shriver by the AFL-CIO), the AAMD Humanitarian Award, the NRPAS National Volunteer Service Award, the Laetare Medal of the University of Notre Dame, and the Order of the Smile of Polish Children. In 1993, she received the “Freedom From Want Medal” from the Roosevelt Institute. Two years later, her portrait appeared on the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games silver commemorative coin. Her portrait also was added to the permanent collection of The National Portrait Gallery. This portrait of Mrs. Shriver, accompanied by several Special Olympians, represents the first time the museum commissioned a portrait of an individual who has not served as either a president or first lady. The portrait, made by David Lenz, was unveiled in May 2009.

After graduating from Stanford University with a B.S. (sociology), Mrs. Shriver worked for the State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she traveled to Alderson, West Virginia, to become a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women. The following year, she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court. In 1957, she became Director of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation.

The fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Mrs. Shriver was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was married to Sargent Shriver, Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Special Olympics, Inc., former director of the Peace Corps and the Office of Economic Opportunity, and former U.S. Ambassador to France. Mrs. Shriver passed away on August 11, 2009.