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.
Washington — From the December 15, 1975 issue of The Christian Science Monitor
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."
No White House ambitions for Mrs. Shriver, who as executive vice-president is the driving force behind the Kennedy Foundation's work for the retarded and the special Olympics she instituted for the handicapped.
She says of the retarded and handicapped children who are helped: "I'm very, very full of admiration for them, and of amazement and wonder at the human spirit, what it accomplishes. We talk about great feats of war and all that, but what could be more exciting than all these children? I think the courage they have, all the spirit, the human spirit, is forever eternal."
"People are always saying, what use are the retarded, on welfare, using up all our funds, and yet, where else is there every day a greater example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity than these people?"
Kennedy family friend Lemoyne (Lem) Billings suggests that it was Eunice's special closeness to and compassion for her retarded sister Rosemary which spurred her to "open up opportunities for the retarded in the last 20 years, bring them out of the closet" and into society.
"Eunice isn't materialism-oriented at all, "says Ethel Kennedy, who describes her as "hopeful, steady, and delightfully unpredictable." A sociology major at Stanford University, she worked with juvenile delinquents in prison reform before turning to retardation.
She is an Ipswich clam about what she likes, but it is safe to say she is fond of Sean O'Casey, skiing, collecting (religious art, American antiques, and decoys) making chocolate chip cookies, sailing, tennis, swimming, Frisbee. And that her childhood heroine was Amelia Earhart. Her mother, Rose Kennedy, writes of her matchless "energy, initiative and drive." Another Eunice-watcher calls her "a ticking time bomb."
As the middle child of nine, Eunice Shriver remembers "When you're in a big family you have to hustle all the time. But I think that's a good quality to instill in your children, for whatever they have to get." She and Sargent Shriver, former Peace Corps head and Ambassador to France, have five children.
They met at a dinner party in New York, when her sister Kathleen took her across the room, to talk to "this delightful man" from an old Maryland family who had worked his way through college and law school. Six years later they were married. "I thought he was very attractive," says Mrs. Shriver. A pause, a low laugh, "and still do."