There are few people in life who have taught me as much about friendship as Eunice Shriver.
In 1981, I started working for Mrs. Shriver at the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. Two years later, I moved over to Special Olympics where I served as the Assistant Director of International Programs. At first, I was a bit intimidated by Mrs. Shriver, but over the years, we developed a real friendship and she came to trust my judgment and abilities.
In those days, no one could multi-task like Eunice Shriver -- whether campaigning on behalf of her brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, delivering a speech to Special Olympics athletes and their families or skiing with her youngest sons, Mark and Anthony in Aspen; Eunice Shriver was everywhere. No one travelled more or worked harder to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities got the recognition they deserved and the acceptance they yearned for. Certainly, no one took more pleasure in their accomplishments. In the early 1980's, Mrs. Shriver was on the road constantly. From Boston to Indiana, from Colombia to Chile, she travelled around the world making sure that the job got done - and done well. I had the great fortune to make many of those early trips with her including trips to, Chile, Portugal, Belgium and South Africa, the year after Nelson Mandela became president. Despite the social and racial instability in Cape Town at the time, Mrs. Shriver insisted on walking through the townships alone - a source of much anxiety to our guide.
Years later, I returned to work for Best Buddies, a program started by Mrs. Shriver's youngest son, Anthony, who attended Georgetown University at the time. Like Special Olympics, Best Buddies recognizes the importance of acceptance and the value of friendship to people with intellectual disabilities. In a recent article in the New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope wrote "In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends. Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health."
Eunice Shriver was way ahead of her time. She recognized the importance of acceptance and significance of friendship -- 40 years ago.
Hilary H. Stephens
Best Buddies International