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Remembering Eunice Shriver: Life and Times, Special Olympics

American Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympic movement, poses with her Sport for Good Award during the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Monaco, Thursday May 25, 2000.  This first annual ceremony is to celebrate sporting excellence across all disciplines and all continents. Eunice Shriver's foundation has two objectives: to seek the prevention of the mental retardation by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens with mental retardation.
American Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympic movement, poses with her Sport for Good Award during the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Monaco, Thursday May 25, 2000. This first annual ceremony is to celebrate sporting excellence across all disciplines and all continents. Eunice Shriver's foundation has two objectives: to seek the prevention of the mental retardation by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens with mental retardation. (Lionel Cironneau - AP)

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Andrea Cahn
Director, Project UNIFY, Special Olympics
Tuesday, August 11, 2009; 12:00 PM

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88, died Tuesday morning at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass., after a series of strokes.

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"The entire Special Olympics community mourns this extraordinary loss, but we honor our founder's legacy by sharing our stories and by ensuring that the vision, passion and impact of Eunice Kennedy Shriver be communicated to all and celebrated," said Andrea Cahn, director of Project UNIFY at the Special Olympics, in an e-mail message to washingtonpost.com.

Cahn was online Tuesday, Aug. 11, at Noon ET to discuss Shriver and the work she did as founder of the organization which was dedicated to improving the welfare of the mentally disabled.

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Andrea Cahn: Hello this is Andrea Cahn from Special Olympics here. I'm here to talk about Eunice Kennedy Shriver - her life and work, and I would be happy to hear your comments and answer any questions.

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New York, N.Y.: I understand from interviews Maria Shriver has given that her father's Alzheimers appears to be advanced. How is he doing?

Andrea Cahn: Mr Shriver is doing well. He is surrounded by family, and love, and althogh the Alzheimers is a factor, he is happy and healthy.

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Renton, Wash.: Mrs. Shriver has left her imprint on the hearts and minds of people all over the world for so many years and she will continue to do so as long as there is a child, an adult, a family who is challenged by their abilities. She is a woman who definitely is leaving this world a better place for having been here. With much appeciation to her family for supporting her in her efforts to make life better for all of us, regardless of our bank accounts, zip codes, ethnicity, or family... she was everyone's Aunt Eunice. With my sincere sympathies and appreciation for a live well lived. The gates of heaven flew wide open when she came calling!

Andrea Cahn: I love that! Aunt Eunice. We all see her as a role model and she is certainly an inspiration for many. She also is like many aunts - loving, but tough - you couldn't get away with any foolishness with her.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Can you talk about what inspired Mrs. Shriver to begin this wonderful organization. Thanks

Andrea Cahn: Mrs Shriver was inspired by her personal experience with her sister Rosemary, knowing that peoople with intellectuall disabilities were able to contribute much more than they were given credit for - that they could and should be accepted, included and welcomed as any human being. But she oftain said - this movement is not about any one person - there are so many people who deserve to be given their rightful place in our communities.

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Overland Park, Kan.: Today we at Heartstrings Community Foundation will honor Eunice Kennedy Shriver's work to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities. Our organization employs people with developmental disabilities in interactive positions in the community. We know that without her efforts before us our work would not be possible. We congratulate her on her energetic and effective advocacy for people who have developmental disabilities and their families. Anne Hull HCF Founder and Dir. of Development

Andrea Cahn: And thank you for the work you do. It is organizations like yours that carry on and honor Eunice Shriver's legacy. So we thank you for that.

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Burke, Va.: I just want to send my condolences to the Shriver family. I have a brother with Down Syndrome who is now in his 30s. It is Eunice's long, hard work that educated others about the mentally-challenged. I still remember how different and the lack of options my family had for my brother in the 70s. It's great to see the families today can benefit the work from Eunice. Thank you and may your work continue to impact the world.

Andrea Cahn: Family members of persons with disabilities, like you, were always a very importangt consideration for Mrs Shriver. She fought very hard on behalf of and alongside parents and siblings, and made sure they were always included. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Washington, D.C.: Didn't the International Olympic Committee once object to the use of the word "Olympics" in "Special Olympics"? Was that ever resolved?

Andrea Cahn: We have a formal agreement with the IOC allowing us to use the word Olympics. We are one of the few organizations that have this kind of an agreement, and our relationship with the International Olympic Committee is strong. On a related note, our next World Summer Games will take place in Athens Greece in the summer of 2011. We are thrilled that our Games will be held in the birthplace of the olympics.

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Bethesda, Md.: For many years, until age and arthritis overtook me, I was a "hugger" at Special Olympics events. Simply put, we hugged all participants in all events, regardless of where they finished, or even if they finished. I never married and have no children, but this brought an enormous amount of love into my life. Thank you, Mrs. Shriver!

Andrea Cahn: We love our huggers! Even though we have transitioned to the more modern "high five" - we are feeling the special Olympics movement come together in one big "hugger" embrace today.

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San Jose, Calif.: Given the publicity and twisted facts surrounding the current health debate about euthansia for elderly, can her family please speak up how knowing her wishes and have conversations with her doctor helped the family deal with her end of life care? Public may pay attention to her story and even in her death she may have continued to help a noble cause. Great lady!

Andrea Cahn:

There are many lessons to be taken from her life. I imagine that the family is first and formeost gathering together in celebration and honor of Mrs Shriver's life, and dealing with the greif of their loss.

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Waterford Twp., Mich.: Eunice Shriver was an angel. To be born into a prestigious and wealthy family, she could have lived a very self-absorbed and selfish life. Instead she gave her life to the betterment of the lives of those living with mental disabilities. Heavan has a very special place for her.

Andrea Cahn: Thank you for your condolences.

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Bethesda, Md.: I heard that she was inspired by her sister Rosemary. There are accounts that Rosemary was born of normal intelligence, albeit not as high as the other Kennedys, this of which cause her to become mentally ill. She subsequently underwent a labotomy, which was the actual cause of her mental disability. Knowing this, did Mrs. Shriver do anything in support of the mentally ill, i.e., those with depressive or psychotic illnesses of which Rosemary initially suffered from?

Andrea Cahn: Mrs Shriver was very involved in the work of the JP Kennedy Foundation which funds research for many forms of mental disability. She has always been very inclusive in her work with people of all abilities, focusing on the celebration of the gifts and capabilities of all people no matter their disability.

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Washington, D.C.: I used to run into the Shriver boys in downtown D.C., where they were running their organizations (Special Olympics, Best Buddies). Really nice guys. It's clear that Eunice and Sargent did a fantastic job raising their five children -- all five are productive members of society with beautiful families. And none of the Shriver kids seem to have had the issues like the other Kennedy cousins. Kudos to Eunice and RIP.

Andrea Cahn: As someone who has the priveledge of working with the Shrivers through Special Olympics, I have to agree that they are a great family - and terrific to work with.

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Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: If ever there's a place in heaven, it's for this woman. By her work with Special Olympics, her life truly made a difference.

Andrea Cahn: Thank you so much, Harpers Ferry, for sharing your thoughts. If you would like, you can also post your comments on our website honoring her legacy, www.eunicekennedyshriver.org. There you can also read the many other moving tributes from Special Olympics athletes, family members, volunteers and friends who have been touched by her life and her work.

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Washington, D.C.: I liked how Mrs. Shriver never exploited her name for fame, as she well could have, as her sister was ambassador to Ireland and her husband vice presidential candidate, did public life not appeal to her at all?

Andrea Cahn: She really had no time for the trappings of public life. I remember trying to arrange interviews with her, and she was very impatient with the inevitable waiting and primping. She was happy to have a chance to get her message across, but she was very much about getting down to business. She preferred not to bask in achievements, but was always about "what do we do next, how can we move forward from here?".

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washingtonpost.com: Eunice Kennedy Shriver

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Please let me know if my memory is correct. Eunice Shriver was the first living person to be depicted on official currency. She was honored for her work with the Special Olympics. How did it come about that she received this honor?

Andrea Cahn: You are correct that she is the first living woman on currency, even though the silver dollar with her depiction is not in circulation. Those folks who collected those coins, released in 1995, are, I'm sure, glad they did. I beleive some of her ardent freinds supported this effort, and got the appropriate backing necessary. It was not surprising given her work and advocacy for persons with intellectual disabilities, and her role in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act passed.

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Washington, D.C.: The Special Olympics offices are in Washington, are they not? Did she come down here a lot to work or did she do most of her work from Massachusetts and Hyannis?

Andrea Cahn: She lived mostly in Maryland and for the 20 years I have been working here she was in the DC offices nearly every day except when she travelled. And when she was working remotely from her home in Massachusetts, usually in the summer, or when she would spend time whith her extended family on holidays, you would have been hardpressed to realize she was not here. We were just as likely to get faxed instructions or a phone call from afar if she had an idea or wanted something to get done.

Andrea Cahn: She also used to request a "walk and talk" - she preferred to always stay moving and folks knew if she asked for you to come for a walk with her, she had a big idea brewing.

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Outside the Beltway: God Bless America, and God Bless Eunice Shriver for representing what's best about our country.

Andrea Cahn: Thank you so much for your comments. We are receiving an outpouring from friends around the world, and it is so gratifying to see how Mrs Shriver touched so many.

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New York, N.Y.: Kudos to the "hugger" from Bethesda and condolences to the Kennedy-Shriver family. I love the Special Olympics more than the regular Olympics -- there's so much heart and so little guile. I remember seeing the Shriver family when I attended Holy Cross church as a teenager many, many years ago. They were always late to church (another thing I liked about the family). I'm going to go practice my "high fives" for the next Olympics.

Andrea Cahn: I'm sure the reason they were late was because those brothers and sister have so much fun with each other and are always horsing around and teasing each other. Your comments have painted a picture for me and I can imagine Eunice scolding them all to hurry up and get in the car - we're going to be late! She was serious about her faith, and going to church was an important part of her family life.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't have a question, I simply wanted to share that, at my alma mater, Villanova University, I was fortunate enough to work with the Special Olympics. Villanova hosts Special Olympics events each fall and having the opportunity to participate was one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience. I have the late Mrs. Shriver to thank for that. Her work, both with Special Olympics and with public perception of those with intellectual disabilities was remarkable and so important. My great uncle, a late state representative in Rhode Island was also significantly involved in programs for those with intellectual disabilities and I can only imagine that he was bolstered by the path that Mrs. Shriver set. My condolences to her family-the ultimate example of those who give a lot when they have a lot.

Andrea Cahn: The Villanova event is a great one. Thanks for your comments - I hope you continue to find a way to stay involved and voluneteer for Special Olympics. there are many ways to participate, and not just at the competition events. You can find out more at our website www.specialolympics.org

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Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Can you remark on the future plans of Special Olympics? Did Mrs. Shriver leave behind a vision for the future?

Andrea Cahn: She was always about the future, not the past, and her legacy is a living one, left in all of us - volunteers, staff, coaches, family members and the athletes who now have a voice and a place of welcome and acceptance in society. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The extended Special Olympics family is ready to take on her charge, and carry on her work as stewards of change.

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Andrea Cahn: Thank you to all who have joined this conversation about Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her life and work. I encourage anyone who wants to share other stories, memories or condolences to do so at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org.

We would love to hear from you.

I leave you with the Special Olympics athlete oath:

"Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

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washingtonpost.com: Eunice Kennedy Shriver

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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