Our parents are our first teachers, and Mark Shriver had “two pretty influential teachers,” he says. From his parents, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he learned, in short, to be a good man.
In a new memoir about his father, Mark Shriver describes how the late founder of the Peace Corps and onetime vice presidential candidate dealt with presidents and waitresses with equal respect and good cheer.
“And that’s really what distinguished my Dad: When the cameras were off and no one was looking at him, he was exactly the same. And that’s hard to find in this town,” Shriver says. “You don’t find a lot of people like that—that are so-called ‘great’ in business, politics, whatever, that are good as well.”
Shriver says he wrote his book—A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver—to try to discover how his father managed to maintain the same spirit of generosity throughout his 95 years.
He chronicles his father’s public roles—founder of the Peace Corps, U.S. ambassador to France, running mate to Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972—and describes his devotion to “the woman of his dreams,” Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. The couple, he says, was married for 56 years, raised five children, and had countless friends, “not just presidents, cardinals, and senators, but regular people.” (Eunice Kennedy Shriver died in August 2009 at age 88.)
Sargent Shriver attended Mass every day and wrote a daily letter to his son that he would slip under his bedroom door. “He didn’t sleep a lot,” his son says, adding that in everything he did, his father “was so joyful in the process, he had a lot of fun.”
According to Mark Shriver, what differentiated his father was his unshakable faith, which led him to be inclusive and care about making a change in this country. “He really tried to use government, and his experiences in government and outside of government, to help others,” he says.
Sargent Shriver struggled with Alzheimer’s disease in the years before he died in January 2011. Even in those last difficult days, Mark Shriver remembers moments of clarity he shared with his father.
One such moment occurred in church: His father was blowing his nose, something he had always been habitually cautious about because he worried that one of his children would catch a cold from him. This time, though, he suddenly put his hand on his son’s knee and said “I love you,” he recalls. In that moment, he knew that his father remembered him and the deep bond they shared.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mark Shriver strives to make a difference every day. As senior vice president of U.S. programs at Save the Children, he works regularly with governors and children alike, and he stresses the importance of bipartisanship in charity work.
A former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Shriver, 48, lives in Bethesda, Md., with his wife and three children.
This article appears in the June 13, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.