CHARLOTTE — At a convention where no word has been spoken more than “forward,” the Maryland Democratic Party managed to spend a couple of hours Tuesday gazing back.
The state’s delegation gathered at a downtown museum here to pay tribute to the late Sargent Shriver, one of their own, who was founder of the Peace Corps, architect of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and married into the Kennedy family.
At a luncheon, Shriver was remembered as a devoted Catholic who loved his wife and five kids, devoted his life to helping the vulnerable in a different era, but whose example still has relevance today as Washington debates how to rein in government.
“When you look in the mirror, Sargent Shriver lives in you,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told his fellow Democrats. “He lives in all of us. Now we have to get out there, since he’s not here.”
The comments of several speakers were laced with partisanship, but some of Maryland’s leading Democrats shared personal recollections of Shriver as well.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) recalled meeting Shriver and his wife, Eunice, at a Young Democrats convention in 1962.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) shared that he and one of Shriver’s sons, Mark, roomed together right out of law school. As a result, O’Malley said, he got to know Sargent Shriver through dinners and ball games.
“If he were here today, I think he’d be deeply saddened that so many children still live in poverty,” O’Malley said.
Mark Shriver also spoke at the luncheon, sharing several anecdotes from his recent book, “A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.”
Mark Shriver said his dad was prominent enough to be eulogized by President Clinton after he died last year following a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. But his father was also loved, his son said, by a waitress at a regular restaurant and an airport attendant who regularly took him through security.
In his public life, his father showed “guts,” Shriver said, by helping launch programs such as Head Start and Legal Services that helped the poor in ways the county had not to that point.
“By honoring Dad, we are indeed honoring all those who tried,” Mark Shriver said, acknowledging his father wasn’t always successful.
The war on poverty has yet to be won, and in his only run for national office, Sargent Shriver lost. That came in 1972, when he replaced Thomas Eagleton as the Democratic vice presidential nominee for George McGovern.