Eunice Kennedy Shriver died this week, and while her family and friends mourn her loss, countless people who never met her face-to-face are also taking a moment to pay tribute to her. Mrs. Shriver probably did more to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities than any other person in history. Because one of her sisters was profoundly retarded, she had a keen compassion for the challenges of the disabled and their families.
She was instrumental in forming President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation, and for the development of the National Institute of Child and Human Development. She was primarily responsible for a network of research centers at major medical schools across the U.S. and for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown Universities. But she will be best remembered for the Special Olympics, which has grown from a modest beginning in the summer of 1968 to almost three million athletes in more than 180 countries.
Disability is not partisan. It hits conservatives, liberals, and independents with equal devastation. Eunice Kennedy Shriver gave an extra measure of dignity to every disabled person. She was a hero for the entire world.