(David L Ryan / Globe Staff)
HYANNIS -- Mourners remembered Eunice Kennedy Shriver today as a doting grandmother and a woman of great Catholic faith, a force within her own famous family and a "fearless warrior for the voiceless."
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
"She lived a prominent life, but she was chosen ... to have a life to serve others," said Loretta Claiborne, a Special Olympian and friend of Shriver, in an introduction at the start of her funeral Mass. "The weakest of the weak. The castaways. The throwaways of society. At the time, they would say the mentally retarded. And I am one of those people. Today she is a fighter for humanity. They say the king of pop in gone. I say the queen of humanity is gone.
"But today I celebrate," Claiborne said. "I hoping you will celebrate, because she will have no more pain."
Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, died Tuesday at age 88. After Claiborne's stirring introduction, a recording of Shriver's voice filled the sanctuary of St. Francis Xavier with the famous words she spoke at the 1987 Special Olympics at the University of Notre Dame.
"The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it," Shriver said in that familiar Kennedy accent. "The right to study in any school? You have earned it. The right to hold a job? You have earned it. The right to be anyone's neighbor? You have earned it."
Mourners in the wooden pews at invitation-only funeral included Vice President Joe Biden, Governor Deval Patrick, Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, and scores of other luminaries. Senator Edward M. Kennedy did not attend the funeral. He has been suffering from a brain tumor over the past year and went to a private family Mass at the Shriver home Tuesday.
The100-year-old white-columned church on Cape Cod has long been a place where the Kennedy family has come to worship, celebrate, and grieve. The Rev. Richard N. Fragomeni recalled in his homily the 1986 wedding there of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the governor of California. And the main altar was donated in memory of Lieutenant Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., who died during World War II when his plane crashed in the English Channel in 1944.
In a eulogy, Maria Shriver enumerated the superlatives used to describe her mother in the days since her death: saint, pioneer, trailblazer, civil rights advocate, and "a force of human nature who more than held her own in a family of highly competitive high achieving men."
"To all of us, she was simply Mummy," Maria Shriver said, motioning to her four brothers standing behind her. "Mummy was our hero. She was scary smart and not afraid to show it. She was tough, but also compassionate. Driven, but also really fun and funny. Competitive, but also empathetic. Restless and patient. Curious and prayerful.
"She liked to hang with the guys," Maria Shriver continued, "but all of her heroes -- with the exception of her brother Jack -- were women."
Her mother, Maria Shriver recalled, wore men's pants, smoked Cuban cigars, and played tackle football, a maternal feminist who refused to be anything but herself.
"She would come to pick us all up at school in her blue Lincoln convertible, her hair would be flying in the wind, there usually would be some pencils or pens in it," Shriver said. "The car would be filled with all these boys and their friends and their animals, she’d have on a cashmere sweater with little notes pinned to it to remind her of what she needed to do when she got home. And more often than not, the sweater would be covering a bathing suit, so she could lose no time jumping into the pool to beat us all in a water polo game."
Before the Mass, a lone bagpiper led a slow procession of police and Special Olympians, who held banners for the games championed by Shriver. The public lined South Street with camcorders and digital cameras, hundreds standing solemnly on the sidewalk in shorts and sandals as the funeral procession passed.
Since Shriver founded the Special Olympics, it has grown in four decades to encompass 3 million athletes in 181 countries. But her work to advance social and living conditions for people with disabilities was multifaceted, reaching far beyond athletics, said Robert Johnson, president and chief executive of Special Olympics Massachusetts.
"Literally every dimension of their lives has been improved as a result of the work of Eunice Kennedy Shriver," Johnson said on Thursday. "Her ability to inspire others was greater than any single person’s I’ve ever met. She was intense. She was determined. She was passionate."
At a public wake on Thursday in Centerville, throngs of mourners revered Shriver for dedicating her life to dispelling misconceptions about the mentally challenged and elevating them, in her words, “into the sunlight of useful living.’’ The crowd at the six-hour wake may have surpassed 1,000, though it was difficult to estimate, as people moved through Our Lady of Victory church in twos and threes after the initial rush.
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