2003 Flame of Hope Award

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Executive Vice President, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation

Founder and Honorary Chairperson, Special Olympics

As Executive Vice President of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and Honorary Chairman of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has been a leader in the worldwide struggle to improve and enhance the lives of individuals with mental retardation for more than three decades. Mrs. Shriver’s tireless efforts on behalf of individuals with mental retardation have had a major impact on services and programs in the District of Columbia. 

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Eunice Mary Kennedy received a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. 

Following graduation, she worked for the U.S. State Department in the Special War Problems Division. In 1950, she became a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, and the following year she moved to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd and the Chicago Juvenile Court. In 1957, Mrs. Shriver took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. 

The Foundation, established in 1946 as a memorial to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., her eldest brother, who was killed in World War II has two major objectives: to seek the prevention of mental retardation by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have mental retardation. 

Under Mrs. Shriver’s leadership, the Foundation has helped achieve many significant advances, including the following: the establishment of the President Kennedy Committee on Mental Retardation, the development of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, the establishment of a network of university-affiliated facilities and mental retardation research centers at major medical schools across the United States (including the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development), the establishment of Special Olympics, and the creation of major centers for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown Universities. 

Recognized throughout the world for her efforts on behalf of persons with mental retardation, Mrs. Shriver has received many honors and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Legion of Honor, the Priz de la Couronne Francaise, the Mary Lasker Award, the Philip Murray-William Green Award (presented to Eunice and Sargent Shriver by the AFL-CIO), the AAMD Humanitarian Award, the NRPAS National Volunteer Service Award, the Laetare Medal of the University of Notre Dame, and the Order of the Smile of Polish Children. 

On 24 March 1984, when U.S. President Reagan awarded Mrs. Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, for work on behalf of persons with mental retardation, he had this to say: 

“With enormous conviction and unrelenting effort, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has labored on behalf of America’s least powerful people, those with mental retardation. Over the last two decades, she has been at the forefront of numerous initiatives on behalf of the mentally retarded, from creating day camps, to establishing research centers, to the founding of the Special Olympics program. Her decency and goodness have touched the lives of many, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver deserves America’s praise, gratitude and love.”