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Shriver remembered for his humanity, optimism

Hundreds honor the Kennedy clan member who founded Peace Corps

Maria Shriver, her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger (right), and other loved ones carried the casket of Sargent Shriver into Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac, Md., yesterday. Maria Shriver, her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger (right), and other loved ones carried the casket of Sargent Shriver into Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac, Md., yesterday. (Brendan Smialowski/ Getty Images)
By Brett Zongker
Associated Press / January 23, 2011

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POTOMAC, Md. — R. Sargent Shriver was remembered yesterday as an unwavering optimist, pioneering the Peace Corps and running the War on Poverty during the turbulent 1960s, and keeping his idealism even as the running mate on a Democratic presidential ticket destined to fail.

At his funeral Mass yesterday, mourners from philanthropist and musician Bono to Vice President Joe Biden to former President Bill Clinton were among hundreds who paid tribute to a man who dedicated his life to serving others. The celebration was filled with songs, laughter, and fond memories.

“Fifty years ago, President Kennedy told us we should ask what we can do for our country,’’ Clinton said. “A whole generation of us understood what President Kennedy meant by looking at Sargent Shriver’s life.’’

Shriver, who died Tuesday at age 95, was affectionately known as Sarge. He grew up during the Great Depression, went to Yale on a scholarship, and served in the Navy during World War II. Then, he fulfilled his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy’s campaign promise by developing the Peace Corps into a lasting international force.

“When he was starting the Peace Corps from scratch, many people thought he was naive and too idealistic, wanting to send a bunch of young Americans abroad’’ to some of the poorest countries of the world, said his son Mark Shriver. “Daddy saw people helping people.’’

Others were inspired to their own social activism.

“I was a student really of the Sarge way of doing things,’’ U2 front man Bono said after singing at the service. Bono founded the Red Campaign with Shriver’s eldest son, Bobby Shriver, to fight AIDS in Africa. “It’s a rare combination of grace and strategy,’’ Bono said of Sargent Shriver.

Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey attended. Wyclef Jean played the piano and sang “All the Ends of the Earth’’ as guests — even Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington — clapped along. Later, Vanessa Williams softly performed “Soon and Very Soon.’’ Bono and Glen Hansard, who starred in the movie “Once,’’ sang “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.’’

One by one, many of Shriver’s 19 grandchildren read short remembrances about their grandfather, recalling his passion for helping people, his hugs, and his love of baseball.

Wuerl told Shriver’s grandchildren to live with the same courage and conviction.

Shriver’s youngest son, Anthony Shriver, welcomed guests before the Mass began, saying his father always made people feel valued. He recalled his father saying in one of his last conversations with him: “You tell Cardinal Wuerl to make Eunice a saint!’’ The crowd erupted in laughter.

Shriver’s late wife was Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She died in 2009 at age 88.

Shriver was buried later yesterday alongside his wife at a cemetery in Barnstable. As darkness fell, family members stepped off a bus carrying candles. Police guarded the cemetery’s entrance, and a green tarp blocked the private service.

Tim Shriver — now chairman and CEO of Special Olympics — said his father never coddled the children but “coached us to pursue those big, big ideas.’’

Tim Shriver encouraged others to see the world the way his father did: “I hope you, too, will carry a little Sarge in you.’’

Maria Shriver, the former NBC reporter and wife of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, said her family took comfort in “knowing that Daddy is in heaven with God and with Mummy.’’

Sargent Shriver was a businessman and lawyer descended from a prominent Maryland family. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past eight years.

Sargent Shriver was former Senator George McGovern’s running mate in the 1972 presidential election, but the Democrats lost in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon.

Clinton recalled that difficult campaign he worked on, and knowing the McGovern-Shriver ticket would lose. “Everyone knew President Nixon was going to win reelection, unless he robbed a bank,’’ Clinton said, drawing laughs.

Still, Shriver campaigned until the end. “Sargent Shriver was going to go out with his head held high,’’ Clinton said.

In 1994, Clinton presented Shriver with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

His son Anthony recalled the day his father received that honor, addressing Clinton. “I’ll never forget him there in the White House and you looking at him and giving him one of those big Bill Clinton hugs,’’ he said. “Wow was he high that day.’’

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