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August 12, 2009

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Special Olympics founder Shriver dies

EUNICE Kennedy Shriver, who emerged from a powerful male-dominated US political family to found the Special Olympics and become a leading advocate of the mentally disabled, died yesterday at the age of 88.

Shriver died after she was hospitalized recently in Hyannis, the Massachusetts town on Cape Cod synonymous with the Kennedy dynasty.

"Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe and they in turn are her living legacy," her family said in a statement.

She was married to Sargent Shriver, whose long public service career included starting the Peace Corps under Eunice's brother, former US President John F. Kennedy.

Eunice was born July 10, 1921, the middle child of the nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr and his wife, Rose.

As a child, she wanted to compete athletically against her brothers, including John, who would be elected president in 1960 and slain in 1963; Robert, a New York senator whose presidential bid ended with his assassination in 1968; and Edward, who has served as senator from Massachusetts for more than 45 years. Edward Kennedy is battling brain cancer, diagnosed in May 2008.

Shriver was always a part of her Democratic brothers' political campaigns but her advocacy work crossed party lines. Republican President Ronald Reagan praised her "enormous conviction and unrelenting effort ... on behalf of America's least powerful people" in 1984 when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

The genesis for the Special Olympics was the summer camps that Shriver put on herself for retarded children at her family's Maryland estate. In 1968 she opened the first US Special Olympics games and 40 years later the event had grown to include 190 nations.


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