By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 10:12 AM
Tributes to Eunice Kennedy Shriver poured in Tuesday from political leaders and advocates for the disabled after the founder of the Special Olympics died in Massachusetts following a series of strokes.
In a statement issued by the White House, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama were deeply saddened to learn the news Tuesday morning.
"Eunice was many things to many people: a mother who inspired her children to serve others; a wife who supported her husband Sargent in the Peace Corps and in politics; and a sister to her siblings, including brothers John, Robert and Edward," Obama said. "But above all, she will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation -- and our world -- that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit."
Obama added, "Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision."
Shriver's brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is battling brain cancer, said his earliest memory of his older sister was "of a young girl with great humor, sharp wit and a boundless passion to make a difference." He said in a statement: "She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us -- much is expected of those to whom much has been given. Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough."
Kennedy said his sister's compassion and hope "were inspired by her love for our sister Rosemary," who was mentally disabled and lived most of her life in an institution. "Over the years, she grew those seeds into a worldwide movement that has given persons with disabilities everywhere the opportunity to lead more productive and fulfilling lives," Kennedy said. "We would never have had an Americans with Disabilities Act without her."
Special Olympics President Brady Lum said on the organization's Web site: "Today we celebrate the life of a woman who had the vision to create our movement. It is an enormous loss, but I know we can rest assured that her legacy will live on through her family, friends, and the millions of people around the world who she touched and transformed. In her memory, we will continue to work to bring her powerful vision to life to change the lives of those with intellectual disabilities, their families and communities, using sports as the catalyst for respect, acceptance and inclusion."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who is married to Shriver's daughter, Maria Shriver, said: "Eunice was the light of our family. . . . She was a pioneer who worked tirelessly for social and scientific advances that have changed the lives of millions of developmentally disabled people all over the world."
Apart from her family, Shriver's "greatest legacy is the Special Olympics, which started as a summer camp in her back yard in 1962 and has grown into a global movement," Schwarzenegger said. "My mother-in-law changed my life by raising such a fantastic daughter, and by putting me on the path to service, starting with drafting me as a coach for the Special Olympics. I will miss her every day, but I know her spirit endures through her amazing children and grandchildren, and through the many lives she changed."
In a letter Monday to the Shriver family, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, conveyed the "paternal affection" for Shriver of Pope Benedict XVI and said the pontiff was "holding close to his heart Eunice as she is called home to eternal life."
The letter said the pope prayed that God would "grant this woman of ardent faith and generous public service the reward of her many labors, particularly on behalf of those who are physically and mentally challenged."