August 11, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Founder of Special Olympics, Dies at 88

Posted: 11:03 AM ET

By J.Y. Smith
Special to The Washington Post

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88, a member of a political dynasty who devoted her life to improving the welfare of the mentally disabled by founding the Special Olympics, died Tuesday morning at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., after a series of strokes.

Shriver, a sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, was credited with playing a major role in changing the perception of mental retardation. When she began her work in the field half a century ago, it was common for mentally disabled people to be placed in institutions that did little more than warehouse them. Through her programs and hands-on efforts, she demonstrated that with appropriate help, most developmentally disabled people can lead productive and useful lives.

In a statement, her family said, "She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy."art_eunice_shriver_afp_gi

In the 1950s, as executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, she shifted the organization's focus from Catholic charities to research on the causes of mental retardation and humane ways to treat it. In 1963, the foundation, which had been established in honor of a brother killed in World War II, published fitness standards and tests for people with intellectual disabilities that became widely used.

When her brother John became president in 1961, she persuaded him to appoint a committee to study developmental disabilities. An outgrowth of the panel's work was the establishment the following year of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as part of the National Institutes of Health.

In 1962, in a groundbreaking article in the Saturday Evening Post, Shriver, the fifth of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, disclosed that her older sister, Rosemary Kennedy, was developmentally disabled. The story demonstrated how not to treat the mentally disabled and summoned a change in conditions that still existed on a wide scale.

"Like diabetes, deafness, polio, or any other misfortune, mental retardation can happen in any family," Shriver wrote. It was different from mental illness, she said, and there were no grounds for the belief, widely held at the time, that people with the condition were belligerent or unmanageable.

"The truth is that 75 to 85 percent of the retarded are capable of becoming useful citizens with the help of special education and rehabilitation," Shriver wrote. "Another 10 percent can learn to make small contributions, not involving book learning, such as mowing a lawn or washing dishes."


Filed under: Kennedy

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April 23, 2009

Kennedy Townsend: My Father's View on Cuba

Posted: 08:55 AM ET

By Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland and daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.

"The present travel restrictions are inconsistent with traditional American liberties," the then-U.S. attorney general argued in a behind-the-scenes debate over the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. I hope that this will soon be the position advanced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the Obama administration ponders its next step on Cuba - which should be to move beyond allowing only Cuban Americans to travel freely to the island and to address the rights of all Americans, most of whom are still not free to go.

In fact, this position was put forth by the attorney general in 1963, my father, Robert Kennedy. The history of his efforts to end prosecutions of U.S. citizens who challenged the travel ban, and to rescind those restrictions altogether, supports including travel-for-all as part of the "new beginning with Cuba" that President Obama commendably announced at the Summit of the Americas last weekend.

In December 1963, the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute four members of the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba who had led a group of 59 college-age Americans on a trip to Havana. My father opposed those prosecutions, as well as the travel ban itself. The prohibition only enticed more students to defy the ban, he believed, and more were likely to travel to Cuba over the coming Christmas vacation.


Filed under: Cuba • Kennedy

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