The Shriver brothers and their ties to the Cape

Cape Cod Life  /  May 2019 /

Writer: Chris White

United in Service

Tim, Mark and Anthony Shriver are dedicated to making the world a better place, just as their mother and father were

From March 14-21, 2019, more than 7,000 athletes competed in the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. Part of the United Arab Emirates’ “Year of Tolerance,” a national program to promote tolerance, compassion and peace, the event marks the first time that a country in the Middle East has ever hosted a global Olympics of any kind. Teams from 190 countries were sent to compete in 24 sports ranging alphabetically from Athletics,—which itself includes multiple track and field events—to Volleyball. Participants included individuals, teams and Unified Teams, which combine an approximately equal number of Special Olympics athletes with intellectual disabilities, and partners without intellectual disabilities. 

In the 50 years since Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics, the organization has served and transformed the lives of millions of people through its programs of empowerment and inclusion. Recent federal budget cuts threaten to completely de-fund the organization, which would impact the 5.6 million athletes who currently participate in Special Olympics programs worldwide. Chairman Timothy Shriver has been working for the organization since 1996 and says, “My parents would be blown away to see 190 nations coming together to see this vision that my mom had 50 years ago.” And although Chicago hosted the first games in 1968 on Soldiers Field, and Camp Shriver took place at the family’s homes in Maryland, in many respects, Special Olympics began right here on the Cape, in Hyannis Port, in the 1950s. Over half a century later, this village and the waters of Nantucket Sound continue to play significant roles in the organization, and the children and grandchildren of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver continue to work for inclusion and peace. 

Tim Shriver

Tim Shriver describes Hyannis Port as “the lab in which Special Olympics grew.” Eunice had eight siblings, including John and Robert Kennedy, and her sister Rosemary was her chief inspiration for starting what would evolve into an organization with global reach. Born with intellectual disabilities (ID), Rosemary faced “prejudice and stigma” in the outside world, and, according to the Special Olympics official website: “When Rosemary’s parents tried to find the right school for her, they found closed hearts and closed doors. People saw no future for someone with intellectual disabilities.” Yet, in Hyannis Port, things were different. Tim Shriver explains: “My mother and uncles could play sports with Rosemary here—she loved sailing and swimming. In Hyannis Port, Rosemary was naturally, seamlessly herself.” Because of this history, Tim chose to launch the 50th anniversary celebration for Special Olympics here, “on the lawn where Rosemary would have played with her siblings.” On July 20, 2018, as they lit “the flame of hope,” Tim honored his aunt Rosemary, describing her as “the first teacher of inclusion. The professor who wrote no book, gave no speech, won no award, but she tumbled out of this house with her brothers and sisters every morning. She went down to the pier for races every week.”

Tim Shriver, who spends summer vacation time here, explains that “Hyannis Port is a great gift of land, people and culture. All of our children see it as our home. Now in the fourth generation for our family, it’s a place to feel at rest, at peace.” His relationships with his three brothers and his sister are also “extremely close and powerful,” and it is here on the Cape that they frequently join together. Tim believes that his parents would be “most excited to see that we have so many people doing such creative work with lessons of the heart.” Though Eunice and Sargent Shriver passed away in recent years, “I feel like they are still here,” Tim says. “I sense their spirits daily; I don’t think of them in the past tense.” 

Mark Shriver

Tim’s younger brother, Mark, also feels an important connection to Hyannis Port and to their parents. “We attend mass with our children every Sunday that we’re here,” he says, “and we visit Mom and Dad in the cemetery across the street afterward.” On a lighter note, Mark says: “The Cape has always been a place of joy, of fun, and of relaxation. And Hyannis Port is just amazing, with golf, water skiing and sailing all within a five-minute walk of each other. It’s the place where we’ve raised our kids with family, both immediate and extended, and multigenerational friends. It’s a web of support and love, and we’ve been blessed to have our kids grow up in this environment.” 

Mark Shriver

Mark Shriver, who joined the board of Special Olympics in February of 2019, also attended the World Games in Abu Dhabi, but his full-time job at Save the Children and much of his career connect more directly with his father’s work. Sargent Shriver is probably best known for founding the U.S. Peace Corps, but he was also the architect of the War on Poverty during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson. In Sargent Shriver’s words: “The simplest description of the War on Poverty is that it is a means of making life available for any and all pursuers. It does not try to make men good—because that is moralizing. It does not try to give men what they want—because that is catering. It does not try to give men false hopes—because that is deception. Instead, the War on Poverty tries only to create the conditions by which the good life can be lived—and that is humanism.” The War on Poverty gave rise to such programs as Head Start, Upward Bound, Job Corps, VISTA, Community Action, Legal Services for the Poor, and Foster Grandparents, all of which continue to serve the needs of people throughout the U.S. today. Mark Shriver, in his position as CEO of Save the Children Action Network, leads an effort to mobilize Americans to ensure that every child in the U.S. has access to high-quality early childhood education and that children around the world survive and thrive. Mark also serves as senior vice president of U.S. Programs & Advocacy at Save the Children.

Mark Shriver

In 2012, Mark Shriver published the memoir “A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.” Sargent Shriver’s guiding principles were faith, hope, and love, but of equal importance to him was joy—for himself, for his family, and for others. “I’m trying to live up to these values,” Mark says. “The Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam (which means repair the world), or Jesus’ efforts to better the community—I’m trying to do this type of thing, but my father was at another level. There are all different approaches; you can do it through a nonprofit organization, but you can also do it by creating jobs, paying good wages. There are a number of good ways to make contributions to society.”  Though Mark’s career focus has been more on poverty and literally saving children around the globe, he has also remained connected with his mother’s work. In fact, in his memoir, Mark describes how his parents’ projects truly intertwined. “Mom was always happy when she was at a Peace Corps celebration,” he writes. “Likewise, I never saw Dad more joyous than when he attended a Special Olympics event. They relished each other’s work.” He recalls that years after the original Camp Shriver of 1962, his parents had rented a 200-acre farm in Maryland. “I remember busloads of people coming out for a day of activities,” he says. “Sports helped open up the doors for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.” His parents also regularly employed people with disabilities both in Maryland and in Hyannis Port. “This was normal in our house,” Mark says. “Back then, these people weren’t generally working; my mother was chipping away at misunderstanding and prejudice.” As is the case with Tim and their other siblings, Mark and his wife Jeanne have raised their three children within the world of Special Olympics and of Best Buddies, the organization that Mark’s brother Anthony started. “Our kids have all volunteered through elementary school, high school, and now college,” Mark says. “And they’ve played on Unified Teams for years.” 

Anthony Shriver

The most visible of the Shriver family’s events on Cape Cod is probably the annual Best Buddies Challenge. In 2019, this event will take place on June 1st. Tom Brady headlines the group of celebrities involved with the fundraiser, for which more than 2,000 participants choose to ride distances of 100, 50 or 20 miles or run/walk 5k. The 100-mile route begins in Dorchester; all routes end at Craigville Beach, where a clambake and a concert take place. Although Best Buddies serves the same community of people as Special Olympics, its purpose is different. Anthony Shriver started the organization when he was a student at Georgetown University in 1986 as a mentorship program modeled after Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, for which he had previously volunteered. In 1989, he established Best Buddies as a legal entity and has remained its leader, chairman and CEO ever since. The organization “fosters one-to-one friendships between people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)” and provides assistance with jobs and housing along with mentoring. Best Buddies also partners with Special Olympics for various causes, including campaigns to end the “r-word,” and collaborates with other nonprofits such as the Entertainment Industry Foundation and Autism Speaks. Anthony Shriver reflects with amazement on the fact that the organization has been going strong for over 30 years already. “At Georgetown, I thought Best Buddies would be a fun thing to do,” he says. “I had no real plan, but then it kept going. The Big Guy got involved.”

The brothers credit Eunice and Sarge for allowing them “infinite possibilities, creative work, and to be able to do anything all over the world.”

The Best Buddies Challenge used to finish in Hyannis Port, but just as the organization itself outgrew Georgetown University, and just as Special Olympics outgrew the Shrivers’ backyards, the reception for the ride needed to expand to a much larger space, in Craigville. Nevertheless, Anthony, along with his siblings, remains rooted in their family’s summer home in Hyannis Port, as does the spirit of their work. Their older brother Bobby, and their sister, Maria, have also continued to expand the visions and missions of Sargent and Eunice Shriver in their own careers. Anthony’s children have all been volunteers as well, and his oldest son, Teddy, earned the distinction of becoming the first Shriver to serve in the Peace Corps, in Peru. Anthony says: “Dad always thought of Peace Corps as his most significant accomplishment. To have his grandkid do it would make him super proud.” He also believes that his parents would have valued the fact that he’s stuck with his career for 30 years. “I’ve tried my best to keep at it, to keep hammering away,” he says. “We try to keep focusing on young people, on service, and on reaching people with what I call special abilities.” 

Anthony Shriver’s Best Buddies organization has more than 2,500 chapters worldwide and is helping change the lives of those with, and without, intellectual disabilities.

This generation of Shrivers has felt blessed to follow after their parents. Anthony credits Eunice and Sarge for allowing him “infinite possibilities, creative work, and to be able to do anything all over the world.” And while Mark has gladly followed his chosen path, he notes that “They never preached, never talked of legacy. They just got up and went to work, seeing the good in all things, whether sailing, working with Peace Corps volunteers, or with Special Olympics athletes. They got up because they didn’t consider it work.” More than anything, however, Tim, Mark, and Anthony are in agreement that beyond any of their career successes and accolades, Sargent and Eunice Shriver would be most proud of what they have all brought back to Hyannis Port, summer after summer—their families, and their children. Anthony notes, “They’d be super proud of what kind of human beings they are.”

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.