Over the years, several people have observed that Sargent Shriver represented what was best about government. He did so because he represented what was best about the idea of community and our shared humanity - and with passion and brilliance brought those qualities to bear in his service to the public.
Sarge was responsible for a raft of public programs, among them the Peace Corps, Head Start, VISTA, Legal Services for the Poor, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and the Job Corps, while also playing a central role with his extraordinary wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver in making Special Olympics an exemplar of American civil society. To have been a leading force in any one of these would have been a full and rewarding lifetime's work. What unites these different entities is their optimism about the human spirit -- that, if given a meaningful chance, people seen by society as less worthy (whether because of poverty, disability or whatever) could accomplish far, far more than was being assumed, thereby enriching their lives and those of everyone else.
Sarge brought that optimism to those organizations because it was who he was as a person, emanating from his deep religiosity and natural ebullience. And yet, for all his faith in human possibility, Sarge was by no means naive about why the world was not better -- rather, it was his choice to deal with the shortcomings of society and of us all by looking for the good and helping nurture it.
It was absolutely wonderful and life affirming to work with Sarge on a variety of matters over the years. He treated everyone we encountered (and we encountered a lot of different people) with enormous respect, and had a genuine eagerness to learn from everyone even as he imparted his wisdom, typically with much humor and spirit. A lasting image I have of Sarge is his button-holing me to tell me how much he had just learned from a young parent or retired teacher, or to urge me to listen closely to a piece of music he had just heard that he thought ethereal, or to impress on me that better days lay ahead for his beloved Baltimore Orioles or, most of all, to share with me his pride in his five children -- all of whom, not surprisingly, have ended up devoting their considerable talents to serving others in the spirit of their parents.
In the end, Sarge did so much good because he was so good and his life is full of lessons for us all.
William P. Alford
Henry L. Stimson Professor, Vice Dean, and Chair of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability Harvard Law School and Special Olympics International Board Member