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Eunice Shriver – founder of the Special Olympics – has died at the age of 88.

The fifth of nine children and sister of John F Kennedy, Shriver led a life of service to the community that she handed down to her children. Her daughter, Maria Shriver, is the First Lady of California and is married to Arnold Schwarzenegger. She runs the annual Women’s Conference in California. Her son, Bobby Shriver, is well known for co-founding the organizations DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa), the ONE Campaign and (RED) with U2 lead singer Bono. Her other sons are also leaders in philanthropy: Timothy Shriver is the Chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics; Mark Shriver is the Vice-President and Managing Director of U.S. Programs for Save the Children; and Anthony Shriver is the founder of Best Buddies International.

Awarded the US Medal of Freedom in 1984, Eunice Shriver was a founder of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring in the 1960s. But it was her work with the Special Olympics for which she will be remembered. Her work with the disabled started early – In 1962, she started a day camp, known as Camp Shriver, for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland. From there, she promoted the concept of competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was Executive Vice President) regularly gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps. In 1968, Shriver was approached to help fund a huge Olympic-style athletic competition for over 1000 people with special needs. The Special Olympics were born, and today it involves over 2.5 million in 180 countries.

Her family released the following thoughts reflecting on her life:

“Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing — searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more.

“She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy. We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit. At this time of loss, we feel overwhelmed by the gifts of prayer and support poured out to us from so many who loved her.

“We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always.”

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