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Eunice Kennedy Shriver Dies at 88

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, younger sister of President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics, died Tuesday morning. She was 88 and had been hospitalized on Cape Cod, Mass.

Shriver's family expressed sadness and shock in a statement released early Tuesday.

"She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others," the statement read. "For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself - to run another Special Olympics games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends."

Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy, D-Mass., said the entire family would miss his sister with all their hearts.

"My earliest memory of Eunice is of a young girl with great humor, sharp wit, and a boundless passion to make a difference," the senator wrote in a statement released Tuesday morning. "She understood deeply the lesson our mother and father taught us - much is expected of those whom much has been given. Throughout her extraordinary life, she touched the lives of millions, and for Eunice that was never enough."

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Eunice Kennedy Shriver's daughter, Maria Shriver, said in a statement Tuesday that his mother-in-law was a hero.

"Eunice was the light of our family," Schwarzenegger wrote. "She meant so much, not only to us, but to our country and to the world. She was a pioneer who worked tirelessly for social and scientific advances that have changed the lives of millions of developmentally disabled people all over the world."

Shriver - spurred by her love for her developmentally disabled sister, Rosemary - devoted much of her life to raising money and awareness to help people with mental disabilities.

"Special Olympics teaches that all human beings are created equal, in the sense that each has the capacity and a hunger for moral excellence, for courage, for friendship and for love," she said during the first such games in 1968.

Eunice Kennedy was born July 10, 1921, the fifth of nine children, to Joseph and Rose Kennedy in Brookline. She attended Catholic schools and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in sociology from Stanford University in 1943.

She held jobs in social work but kept a hand in politics. She campaigned for her brothers: John, who became president; Robert, New York senator; and Edward, the senior senator from Massachusetts, who is ailing with a brain tumor.

Like the rest of her storied family, she lived a life punctuated by heartache. Her oldest brother, Joseph, was killed in World War II in 1944. Four years later, her older sister Kathleen died in a plane crash. Assassins gunned down two brothers: President Kennedy in 1963 and Robert, then a presidential candidate, in 1968.

Her husband, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., 93, was diagnosed in 2003 with Alzheimer's disease, and it worsened in recent years to the point that he no longer recognizes his family. He ran for vice president with George McGovern on the 1972 Democratic ticket, and he helped found the Peace Corps and Head Start, the child development program.

The couple had five children, including Maria, a former NBC news reporter married to California Gov. Scwarzenegger; Mark, a former Maryland state legislator; and Tim, a physician who serves as chairman of the board for the Special Olympics.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver's sister Rosemary, born with mental retardation made worse by a surgical lobotomy, spent most of her adult life at a private institution in Wisconsin and died in 2005. Shriver devoted much of her energies to countering the social stigma once attached to mental disabilities.

"If I (had) never met Rosemary, never known anything about handicapped children, how would I have ever found out? Because nobody accepted them anyplace," she told National Public Radio in 2007.

In 1956, she became executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, which helped fund Catholic organizations and those that benefited the mentally retarded. In 1962, she opened her Maryland estate to a summer camp for mentally retarded children.

In July 1968, just weeks after Robert Kennedy was killed, about 1,000 people from 26 U.S. states and Canada participated in the first Special Olympics at Soldier Field in Chicago. Shriver persuaded Chicago officials to join with the Kennedy Foundation to sponsor it.

Today, the organization says it serves almost 3 million children in 180 countries.

Unlike other members of her Democratic clan, she remained opposed to legalized abortion and was a longtime supporter of the group Feminists for Life.

In 1984, President Reagan awarded Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Her brother, Edward, is scheduled to receive the same award from President Obama on Wednesday. In 1995 the U.S. Treasury placed her likeness on a commemorative coin.

"If you ever had any doubt about how much good one person can do," then-President George W. Bush said at her 85th birthday dinner in 2006, "look no further than this kind and gracious lady."

Besides her husband, five children and brother Edward, Shriver is survived by a sister, Jean Kennedy Smith.

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