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From our files: Eunice Kennedy Shriver - at jet speed

In a 1975 interview with the Monitor, Mrs. Shriver spoke of her family, her heroes, personal ambitions.

By Louise SweeneyStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 11, 2009


From the December 15, 1975 issue of The Christian Science Monitor

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One sandy day in Hyannisport, Cape Cod, in 1975, during Sargent Shriver's last run for the presidency, he announced he was going to Indianapolis to campaign. His wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, announced she was going to swim.

So she and a friend from Ireland, Dot Tubrity, splashed into the ocean. "They were out swimming around," remembers Ethel Kennedy, Mrs. Shriver's sister-in-law, "when Eunice said, 'Maybe I really ought to go to Indianapolis." The problem was, the plane was leaving in seven minutes.

Mrs. Shriver raced into the house, grabbed a few things, and they made a dash for the plane. But when they got to the airport, says Mrs. Kennedy, "Eunice realized she'd forgotten to put a dress on, so she said to Dot, 'Would you take your dress off, I'll need it. You can change behind the car.' So Eunice wore the dress over her bathing suit on board the plane, then on to the speech and reception in Indianapolis.

"Eunice," says Ethel Kennedy, "likes to do things on the spur of the moment."

Meeting the wife of the Maryland Democrat who wants to be president is just that abrupt. Eunice Shriver's door slams open and she shoots out, trailing a sort of jet exhaust, beginning the conversation in mid-paragraph, then sweeping the inverviewer into the robin's egg blue office where she runs the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in Washington, D.C.

In an interview Mrs. Shriver does not so much answer a question as pounce on it. She is a tall, slender woman with a certain wiry grace, a woman who paces the floor, thumps the table, runs her fingers through her lion's mane of brown and blonde hair as she talks. There is a Katharine Hepburn quality about her walk and about her talk, the voice low, cultured, and salted with the characteristic Kennedy r's: "Americar" and "Chinar."

Among the remaining of the original nine Kennedy children she now is the oldest, her face more seasoned than pictures would suggest. The eyes are a soft blue, while she has the bold bone structure and flashing teeth that are the family signature. This day, she is wearing a tan, black, and green somber-striped sweater over black pants, a startling pair of scarlet Argyle sox, and scuffed Guccis.

"I don't particularly want to be in the White House," she admits. "I'm very happy doing what I do. And if I were in the White House I would be really interested in continuing to do what I do, which is working . . . That's a very cold answer, I guess, but I was trying to answer in terms of ambition."