Shriver's idealism recalled at wake

January 22, 2011

It was the late 1970s, and volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Philippines changed Larry Koskin forever.

On Friday, Koskin was among hundreds who stood in a long but fast-moving line outside Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown to pay tribute to R. Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps. Shriver died Jan. 18 at age 95.

Koskin met Shriver a couple of times and has fond memories.

"I'm here to celebrate a man who was an extraordinary role model for anyone who values what a just and civilized society should be," said Koskin, an Arlington County resident who works in the Treasury Department's inspector general's office. "If you go to the Peace Corps building, his spirit is very much alive. You feel an incredible optimism for what is possible. Anyone who ever worked in that building comes away with an intolerance for the word 'No.' "

Mourners included dowagers in full-length fur coats, Special Olympians, civil servants and young college students who said Shriver inspired them to aim for a life in public service.

Former Peace Corps volunteers, who formed the largest contingent at Friday's wake, said they carried their idealism into middle age.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac. Cardinal Donald Wuerl will deliver the homily.

A plaque on the iron fence surrounding Trinity Catholic notes its place in Kennedy family history. President John F. Kennedy, Shriver's brother-in-law, worshiped there as a congressman and U.S. senator and attended Mass there just three weeks before he was assassinated in 1963.

Mourners walked past the hearse that carried Shriver's coffin into the small church, where family members stood in the front greeting everyone who came. The mood was festive and filled with laughter as people reminisced about the man and his legacy.

"I've never met anyone who was so charming in my life," said Laura Turner, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1989 to 1991 and is now a video producer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. "He made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Once, he came to a reunion of Peace Corps volunteers. I had a photo of him, and I asked him to sign it. Then he spent 10 minutes talking to me, with just the two of us in the room. He was so kind."

Bill Mattson, a New York City Realtor, became acquainted with Shriver at balls for Best Buddies International. Shriver's son Anthony founded the group to create friendships between people who are intellectually challenged and those who are not.

He described Sargent Shriver as unfailingly generous in his praise of others. He recalled treating Shriver to lunch at the Hay-Adams and later asking him why he had thanked the manager for lunch instead of Mattson himself, who had paid for it.

"Bill, you'd never host a luncheon unless it was run at a first-rate establishment," Shriver told him.

The reply was vintage Shriver, Mattson said. "He managed to pay two compliments at once."

Some who attended the wake had only read about Shriver.

"He may have started the Peace Corps, but he also helped with other social programs," said Angela Frazier of Hyattsville, who said she had been in Head Start as a child in 1970 and later in Upward Bound. "I wanted to pay my condolences to the family. I benefited from those programs, and sometimes you have to say thank you to the people who started them."

Logan Heiman, 19, a sophomore at Howard University, said he took the Metro and then a cab to the wake. He's considering a career in public service after he graduates.

"I admired Sargent Shriver as a man who did good, both for his family and as a public servant," Heiman said. "I just hope I can live the kind of exemplary life he did."

Three co-workers at the Special Olympics office near Dupont Circle left work early to attend Shriver's wake.

"He was our boss," said Steve Lorbin. "He was sunshine. He was mountains. He was unlimited possibilities."

"He had a continuous, big smile," Kester Edwards chimed in.

"For Special Olympians like me, he was like our mom and dad, or maybe our grandparents," said Garrie Barnes.

Not everyone at the Special Olympics office planned to attend, however.

"Some people were busy working on the Special Olympics," Lorbin said. "That's just the way Mr. Shriver would have wanted it."

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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