A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver
In writing about his famous father, Mark Shriver reveals a man whose private life mirrored his public persona; as the expression goes, Sargent “Sarge” Shriver had “no sides.” He was the first head of the US Peace Corps, a Vice-Presidential candidate, and heir to the graces that led him to marriage into the Kennedy dynasty. At all times, though, he was guided by his deep faith in God and adherence to Catholicism, and his lifelong belief that “the world can be better if only we focus on achieving our ideals.”
"One story that stands out in this articulate paean to a loving father is that of Mark’s brother Bobby, who disgraced the family when he was arrested for possession of marijuana.... [Sargent Shriver] emerges in this personal tribute as “a good man” who strove to pass on virtues of bravery, sensitivity and old-fashioned morality to his children..."
Few government programs were ever initiated with more idealism than the Peace Corps, which offered hope not only to many in the poor countries of the world, but also to a cadre of sincerely compassionate and adventurous young Americans looking for a revolutionary way to express their patriotism. When asked by President John F. Kennedy to shape the Corps, Sarge “saw that deep inside us all, we all long to help each other.”
On the same day that Eunice Kennedy Shriver confirmed that she was pregnant with Mark, she and Sarge learned that her brother had been assassinated in Dallas. The tragedies that have beset the Kennedy family (and continue to do so) are well known; less so are the stories of grit and determination behind the scenes, from the rollicking family football games to the grim and necessary details of burying a beloved President, handled in great part by Sarge. Yet Sarge, who had been a member of the “Camelot” dream team that filled the White House with beauty, sophistication and a new infusion of excitement, did not seek the limelight. He was a curiously modest man whose bedroom, his son records, was monkish in its simplicity and who asked to be buried in a Trappist coffin of the cheapest type.
One story that stands out in this articulate paean to a loving father is that of Mark’s brother Bobby, who disgraced the family when he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Humiliated and feeling like a failure at age 16, Bobby was given support and comfort where he had least expected it. His father took him aside and told him, “You are a good kid.” After being released to Sarge’s custody, Bobby was taken by him to California where he played tennis daily for eight hours straight in the hot sun for a month. Bobby later referred to this as “my father saving my life.”
Sargent Shriver --- a World War II veteran, US Ambassador to France, husband of the founder of the Special Olympics, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom --- died of complications of Alzheimer’s in 2011. He emerges in this personal tribute as “a good man” who strove to pass on virtues of bravery, sensitivity and old-fashioned morality to his children, and who was genuinely admired by those he worked among.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 15, 2012