A convincing argument that Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009), the fifth of nine Kennedy children, changed the world in ways at least as significant as her more-famous relatives.
Pulitzer Prize–winning former Boston Globe journalist McNamara (Director, Journalism/Brandeis Univ.; Breakdown: Sex, Suicide, and the Harvard Psychiatrist, 1994, etc.) makes a compelling case that Eunice Kennedy’s primary crusade, on behalf of millions of citizens with cognitive disabilities, succeeded greatly as a civil rights movement, altering lives for the better not only for the disabled, but also for their families. Eunice received inspiration for the crusade from her parents’ treatment of daughter Rosemary, a cognitively disabled girl—and later, woman—hidden away in asylums, forced to undergo a lobotomy, and lied about to the public to protect the burnished Kennedy family image. The powerful and ruthless Kennedy patriarch, Joseph P., made the major decisions regarding Rosemary, and Joseph’s wife, Rose, gave in to her husband. McNamara demonstrates, however, that Eunice, John F., Robert, and all the other Kennedy siblings were complicit in the heartless treatment and public charade. Riddled by guilt and driven to accomplish her reform goals, Eunice influenced JFK to push Congress for legislation to improve the treatment of the cognitively disabled and fund research into causes and cures. That legislation won approval in 1963, shortly before the president’s assassination. In 1962, Eunice created Camp Shriver, which eventually became the Special Olympics in 1968. In each chapter, the author amply spotlights the formidable nature of Eunice, who refused to accept no for an answer when she spearheaded a crusade. In fact, McNamara learned, the word most often used to describe Eunice was “formidable.”
A clearly written biography crammed full of memorable anecdotes about each of the Kennedys through four generations, about Eunice’s influential husband, Sargent Shriver, and about dozens more characters from domestic politics, international diplomacy, and high society.