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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Memory of Eunice Kennedy Shriver

The world has lost a great leader in the struggle to improve and enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

I was deeply saddened to hear that Eunice Kennedy Shriver, executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, founder and honorary chairperson of Special Olympics, sister of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy, and the driving force behind the establishment of the NICHD, died this morning, August 11, 2009, after suffering a series of strokes.

Mrs. Shriver has long been a champion for and friend of the NICHD. Together with Dr. Robert E. Cooke, her friend and a scientific advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Shriver paved the way for the establishment of the NICHD in 1962 to “encourage imaginative research into the complex processes of human development, from conception to old age.” In recognition of her vision and dedication, Congress passed Public Law 110-154 on December 21, 2007, renaming the Institute as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

On March 3, 2008, I had the pleasure of welcoming Mrs. Shriver, her family, friends, and other special guests to the NIH campus to recognize the Institute’s renaming. During this special event, we also renamed the Institute’s flagship research centers program in Mrs. Shriver’s honor and inducted her into the NICHD Hall of Honor. Throughout the event, it was clear that Mrs. Shriver was truly appreciative for all the efforts of NIH and NICHD staff in trying to improve the lives of others, especially those who need our help the most. She took the time to shake hands with every person in attendance and thanked them for their work.

Even though the day’s events were to honor her accomplishments and vision, Mrs. Shriver never moved her focus away from those she called her “special friends.”

“I want to ask all of you to believe in the value of every person with an intellectual disability,” Mrs. Shriver said in her remarks on March 3, 2008. “I want to ask the scientists here to work to improve their quality of life. I want to ask the political leaders here to finally give them their due as citizens of this great country.”

Mrs. Shriver went on to talk about her belief in possibility, not just for herself and her family, but for all people, of all levels of ability, throughout the world. She championed for it, working so that all people could strive to achieve their own possibilities, to share their own special gifts and talents, and to be valued as an important part of our world.

Mrs. Shriver leaves many legacies—the NICHD, the Special Olympics, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers, her children and grandchildren, her family, her friends. But maybe her most important legacy is how she treated others, which she explained:

“There is no joy like the joy of unleashing the human spirit. There is no laughter like the laughter of those who are happy with others. There is no purpose more noble than to build communities of acceptance for all. This is our glory.”

The world has lost a great leader in the struggle to improve and enhance the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Mrs. Shriver will be deeply missed.

Sincerely yours,

Duane Alexander, M.D.
NICHD Director

The following links provide more information:
Special Olympics Mourns the Loss of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (From the Special Olympics Web site)

In Honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Statement from the Shriver Family

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Founder of Special Olympics, Dies (New York Times)

in German:
Eunice Kennedy Shriver – ein Leben für Amerika