Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Special" Lady Laid to Rest...

This past Friday, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the third sister of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, was laid to rest. Her funeral was held at an invitation only mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver might be best known, outside of being the sister of her slain brothers John and Robert, but as the mother of Maria Shriver, wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Actor turned Governor of California. However, Eunice had a profound impact beyond being the Terminator's Mother-in-Law.

Her greatest contribution was founding the Special Olympics. Heavily influenced by her father's decision to give her older sister, Rosemary, a lobotomy that left the elder Kennedy sister incapacitated, Eunice worked for the rights of disabled peoples everywhere.

Special Olympics was just one part of Eunice's advocacy. While he was president, Eunice pushed JFK to appoint a special commission on mental retardation. That commission sought a greater understanding of the causes and condition of those with mental handicaps and more humane ways to treat them.

Often recognized as politically astute and active in JFK's campaign, perhaps had she been born to a family of all girls or in a later time she might have run for higher office. Her husband, Sargent Shriver, held numerous appointments and ran as the Vice-Presidential nominee in 1972.

Her funeral was attended by much of the massive
Kennedy clan, including her sole surviving brother, the ailing, but fighting, Senior Senator from Massachusetts and her son-in-law, the Governor of California. Celebrities from Oprah to Stevie Wonder to Jon Bon Jovi were at the mass in the architecturally modest, but large Barnstable church. Politicians, too, were on hand including Governor Deval Patrick and Vice-President Joe Biden.

However, Eunice's passing means a little bit more than just another Kennedy death. With Shriver gone, only Ted Kennedy and his sister Jean Smith, former Ambassador to Ireland, remain from that generation. The rest have all succumbed either to assassination or merely the passage of time.

With Senator Kennedy fighting brain cancer, but some accounts "day to day," it truly is a time to sit back and reflect on the legacy of Joe Kennedy's brood. For many there is an inclination to focus on the darkest elements from the affairs to Chappaquiddick. Others remember the brightest, if superficial parts, namely the Kennedy Administration as the style and opulence of Camelot. Neither do the family or that generation justice as both views, though very much a part of history, contribute just as much if not more to the myth as to the truth. Indeed, the myth, JFK said, not the lie, is the enemy of the truth.

Even if he wins his battle with cancer, it would seem that Teddy's days in the Senate are numbered. While it is possible that he may run again in 2012, the likelihood is low. Even now, his absence from the Senate, despite his image as the liberal lion, has made bipartisan negotiations during the Health Care debate all the more tenuous and rancorous.

The next generations has tried to fill the gap, but the grandchildren have faced their own demons, perhaps even more so than their parents. Many of that generation have tried in politics, but none have come close to the luster and power of Jack and Bobby and Teddy. Representative Patrick Kennedy has fought addiction while in office. Caroline Kennedy, lobbied to be appointed to Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat, but did not prepare herself for the onslaught by the press, that had respected her privacy since her mother, the late Jacquie Onassis, requested years ago.

Their greatest contributions have been in the area of Philanthropy, such as former Congressman Joe Kennedy II's Joe for Oil Program.

It is hardly too late for that generation and despite her comments to the contrary, Caroline, the best positioned to muster the star power and money as the sole surviving child of JFK, may yet move into the politics.

Back to Eunice, though. We cannot forget amongst all this dynastic political soul searching that a fellow human being has died. The cops and Secret Service Agents, notwithstanding, as the church bells tolled toward the end of the requiem mass, the scene became quite moving. Perhaps not as much for the gawkers who came for a chance to see the Governator or Oprah, but it was a powerful experience for any cognizant of the common humanity Eunice Shriver shared with her fellow man. Her children and others continue to further her causes and her mark on the world is assured.

Rest in peace, Eunice.

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