Love builds special gift for a sister
At the time of her death on Friday, the woman had been living far from her family's Massachusetts roots for more than 60 years. She was also removed from reality, childlike at...
Seattle Times staff columnist
At the time of her death on Friday, the woman had been living far from her family's Massachusetts roots for more than 60 years.
She was also removed from reality, childlike at 86.
What put her passing in the nation's papers was her last name: Kennedy.
But while Rosemary Kennedy was separated from her family's accomplishments, she was at the very center of those of her younger sister Eunice.
In 1968, having witnessed her sister's struggles and triumphs, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics. It came out of a love that only a sister can hold.
Where one ends, the other begins. I know this like I know my own name.
People ask about my sister, Suzie, and my mood lifts like a liberated balloon. I start to speak in hyperbole. She is the most gorgeous woman, the most generous, so funny she brings me to tears.
She is my champion, my hero and my heart. She makes me want to be better than I am.
I suspect it was like that for Eunice: Always tagging behind, wanting to catch up to her big sister — they were just three years apart — until the point when she surpassed Rosemary not only in everyday tasks and academics but in embracing the Kennedy family expectations and structure.
In 1941, when Rosemary was 23, Joseph Kennedy arranged for his first daughter and third child to undergo a lobotomy. He believed the procedure — in which the frontal lobes of the brain are scraped away — would not only temper and control her moods, but, by some accounts, save the family from embarrassment.
In years to come, though, Eunice and older brother John F. Kennedy, later president, would speak openly of their sister's mental retardation.
Doing so not only removed the stigma for other families, but it also gave Eunice purpose.
In 1961, she and her husband, Sargent Shriver, helped establish the President's Committee on Mental Retardation. The following year, she created the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Awards in Mental Retardation.
The Special Olympics were established six years later, after Eunice was inspired by her big sister swimming in races like she was born to do it.
The games now include more than 1 million athletes in 150 countries.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work.
She also gave her sister a legacy by passing her devotion on to her own children: Robert Shriver raises money for the Special Olympics, Timothy is the organization's director and Anthony is an activist for the mentally retarded.
After her mother, Rose Kennedy, suffered a stroke in 1986, Eunice took over her sister's care and included her more in the family's activities.
She wouldn't let her sister be forgotten. Rather, she made sure she was better known.
How could a woman who lived and died like a child accomplish so much?
She had a sister who would do anything for her. And did.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is grateful for the safe place.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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