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Video: Remembering Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver, Anthony Kennedy Shriver
Brian Snyder  /  AP
Sargent Shriver is escorted to his seat in the church by his son Anthony Kennedy Shriver before funeral services for U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston.
msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 1/19/2011 8:13:57 AM ET 2011-01-19T13:13:57

Sargent Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family and a former U.S. vice presidential nominee who served as the first Peace Corps director, died on Tuesday. He was 95.

His family said in a statement that Shriver, known as Sarge, was surrounded by his five children and 19 grandchildren when he died in a Washington-area hospital.

Shriver, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease in his final years, had been an advocate for the poor and powerless. He helped launch President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and became the driving force behind social programs such as Head Start, Legal Services and VISTA.

Video: Shriver on Meet the Press in 1975 (on this page)

"Over the course of his long and distinguished career, Sarge came to embody the idea of public service," President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday.

Obama called called Shriver one of the "brightest lights of the greatest generation."

Video: 1964: LBJ taps Shriver to run War on Poverty
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Shriver's marriage in 1953 to Eunice Kennedy, daughter of diplomat and businessman Joseph Kennedy, inducted him into the legendary Kennedy family and its generations of politicians and activists.

His death came less than two years after she died Aug. 11, 2009, at age 88. The Kennedy family suffered a second blow that same month when Sen. Edward Kennedy died.

Speaking outside Suburban Hospital in Maryland, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, said his father was "with my mom now," and called his parents' marriage a great love story.

At Eunice Shriver's memorial service, their daughter Maria Shriver said her father let her mother "rip and he let her roar, and he loved everything about her." He attended in a wheelchair.

The handsome Shriver was often known first as an in-law — brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy and, late in life, father-in-law of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But his achievements were historic in their own right and changed millions of lives: the Peace Corps' first director and the leader of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," out of which came such programs as Head Start and Legal Services.

Within the family, Shriver was sometimes relied upon for the hardest tasks. When Jacqueline Kennedy needed the funeral arranged for her assassinated husband, she asked her brother-in-law.

"He was a man of giant love, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment," the Shriver family said in a statement. "He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place. He centered everything on his faith and his family. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others. "

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In public, Shriver spoke warmly of his famous in-laws, but the private relationship was often tense. As noted in Scott Stossel's "Sarge," an authorized 2004 biography, he was a faithful man amid a clan of womanizers, a sometimes giddy idealist labeled "the house Communist" by the family. His willingness to work for Johnson was seen as betrayal by some family members.

The Kennedys granted him power, but also withheld it. He had considered running for governor of Illinois in 1960, only to be told the family needed his help for John Kennedy's presidential campaign. Hubert Humphrey considered him for running mate in the 1968 election, but resistance from the Kennedys helped persuade Humphrey to change his mind.

When Shriver finally became a candidate, the results were disastrous: He was George McGovern's running mate in the 1972 election, but the Democrats lost in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon.

Four years later, Shriver's presidential campaign ended quickly, overrun by a then-little-known Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter.

Although known for his Kennedy connections, Shriver, born in 1915, came from a prominent old Maryland family. His father was a stockbroker, but he lost most of his money in the crash of 1929.

Story: The Kennedys: Portrait of an American dynasty

Shriver went on a scholarship to Yale, then went on to Yale Law School. He served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.

Returning home, he became an assistant editor at Newsweek magazine. About this time, too, he met Eunice Kennedy and was immediately taken by her. They married in 1953 in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Her father, Joseph P. Kennedy, hired him to manage the Kennedy-owned Merchandise Mart in Chicago. He was a big success on the job and in Chicago in general — and even was elected head of the school board in 1955.

NBC News' Brian Williams on Sargent Shriver

Shriver had fought for integration in Chicago and helped persuade John F. Kennedy to make a crucial decision in the 1960 campaign despite other staffers' fears of a white backlash: When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Georgia that fall, Kennedy phoned King's wife and offered support. His gesture was deeply appreciated by King's family and brought the candidate crucial support.

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Soon after taking office, Kennedy named Shriver to fulfill a campaign promise to start the Peace Corps. Although it was belittled by some as a "kiddie corps," Shriver quickly built the agency into an international institution.

After Kennedy's assassination, in 1963, Johnson called upon Shriver to run another program which then existed only as a high-minded concept: the War on Poverty.

Story: Your Peace Corps Photos

Shriver's efforts demonstrated both the reach and frustrations of government programs: Head Start remains respected for offering early education for poor children, and Legal Services gave the poor an opportunity for better representation in court.

But other Shriver initiatives suffered from bureaucracy, feuds with local officials and a struggle for funds as Johnson devoted more and more money to the Vietnam War.

In early 1968, with Shriver rumored to be on the verge of quitting, Johnson offered him the ambassadorship to France. He accepted it even though some family members wanted Shriver to support Sen. Robert Kennedy's presidential candidacy instead.

In Paris, Shriver won many French fans, but he left the post for a job in private business not long after Nixon took office in 1969.

Story: Sierra Leone and Peace Corps

He campaigned for congressional Democrats in 1970, and two years later McGovern drafted him to replace Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running-mate. Eagleton dropped out because of questions about his medical history.

Shriver was good humored that he had been McGovern's seventh pick for the job — after brother-in-law Ted Kennedy, among others. He named his campaign plane "Lucky 7."

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In September 1975, Shriver joined an already crowded race for the 1976 Democratic nomination. But he dropped out in March 1976 after poor showings in the early primaries and never again sought office. He instead worked with Special Olympics and other causes.

In 1994, Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, daughter Maria Shriver gained fame as an NBC newswoman and, since 2003, first lady of California. The Shrivers also had four sons — Robert, Timothy, Mark and Paul Anthony. Mark Shriver was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1995 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002. They also had 19 grandchildren.

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Photos: R. Sargent Shriver dies at 95

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  1. Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. escorts his bride, the former Eunice Kennedy, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on May 23, 1953. Shriver had worked for Eunice Kennedy's father, the former abassador to the United Kingdom, in Chicago. Shriver went on to be a former U.S. vice presidential nominee and served as the first Peace Corps director. He died Jan. 18 at age 95. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sargent Shriver served as a campaign coordinator for John F. Kennedy. Here, President-elect Kennedy, center, is surrounded by members of his family in the living room of the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, John's father, on Nov. 9, 1960. Standing, left to right: Ethel Kennedy; Steve Smith and wife, Jean Kennedy; Sen. Kennedy; brother Robert Kennedy, campaign manager; sister, Patricia Lawford; Shriver; brother Ted's wife, Joan; and British actor Peter Lawford. In the foreground, seated are: sister Eunice Shriver, left; mother Rose Kennedy; father Joseph; Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of John, and his brother, Ted Kennedy. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. President John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, left, host a White House reception for the inaugural group of Peace Corps volunteers on Aug. 28, 1961. The volunteers were to serve in Ghana and Tanganyika (later Tanzania). (Joseph Scherschel / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. After John F. Kennedy's assassination, Shriver was among the family at the funeral Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington on Nov. 25, 1963. In front are Robert F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy. Behind Jacqueline Kennedy is Shriver. President Lyndon Johnson and first lady "Lady Bird" Johnson are in the background. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. This July 1965 photo shows 1-week-old Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver at Logan International Airport in Boston with his parents, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver. The Shrivers had five children, including jounalist and author Maria Shriver, wife of former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. (J. Walter Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Sargent Shriver and his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver watch a satirical skit put on by staff at the Office of Economic Opportunity while serving in the Johnson administration in 1968. (Charles Harrity / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver stumps in Yonkers, New York, on Oct. 18, 1972. The George McGovern-Shriver ticket would lose to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in the November election that year. (Jim Wells / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver attend the Valentino Fashion Show benefiting Special Olympics in June, 1976. Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, left, and Sargent Shriver, right, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, in an undated photo. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, celebrates with his wife's parents, Sargent and Eunice Shriver after Schwarzenegger's victory in the recall election in Los Angeles in 2003. In August 2009, Eunice Shriver preceeded her husband in death. (Blake Sell / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Sargent Shriver is escorted at church by his son Anthony Kennedy Shriver, right, at the funeral for Sen. Edward Kennedy, his brother-in-law, in August 2009. Behind him are President Barack Obama, third from left, former President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Brian Snyder / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other loved ones carry the casket of Sargent Shriver into at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Jan. 22, in Potomac, Md. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Former President Bill Clinton, Sen. John Kerry, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attend the funeral service for Sargent Shriver at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church Jan. 22, in Potomac, Md. (Cliff Owen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rock singer Bono leaves following the funeral Mass for Shriver at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic church in Potomac, Md., Jan. 22. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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