The Legacy of Sargent Shriver, 1915-2011

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Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., liberal titan and in-law to the political stars, died Tuesday at 95. Our colleague David Von Drehle writes his obituary:

Hardly a starry-eyed program was launched in the 1960s without Shriver’s imprint. He took John F. Kennedy’s campaign promise of a volunteer youth corps and turned it into the Peace Corps, serving as the first director. After JFK’s assassination, while pugnacious Robert F. Kennedy was making his gradual journey leftward, Shriver put his stamp on the Great Society. As first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, he launched the VISTA program, billed as a domestic Peace Corps, the Job Corps, Head Start, the Community Action Program, and other initiatives in the War on Poverty.

And there was always a sense of “what if” about Sargent Shriver, because he was handsome and strong-jawed and vigorous just like his better-known relatives. He was the genuine liberal who led the desegregation of the Chicago schools back in the 1950s, when the Kennedy brothers were still hedging on issues of civil rights. He was the youthful peace activist in the administrations that escalated America’s involvement in Vietnam. For liberals, he was the genuine article.

Shriver appeared three times on the cover of TIME, once in his capacity as head of the burgeoning Peace Corps, once as a Great Society field general in the War on Poverty, and once as the Democrats’ vice presidential mulligan. To many, the whole of his legacy is something quite a bit more than the sum of its parts. Von Drehle’s piece is worth reading in full, as is this intimate farewell from his one-time biographer, Scott Stossel.

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