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Opinion | Sexuality

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 1921-2009

Remembering the devout Catholic's tireless work for people whose lives were often seen as worthless.

I saw Eunice Kennedy Shriver once, in December of 1963. I was standing at the back of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., waiting for a Mass in honor of her brother, John F. Kennedy, to begin. Most of the Kennedy family was seated in front when Mrs. Shriver arrived. She rushed past, so close I could have reached out and patted her full-length fur coat.

She was tall, with disheveled brown hair and hastily applied red lipstick. Her face was lined with grief. I saw other Kennedys that day, but Mrs. Shriver is the only one I remember—a 42-year-old, very pregnant force of nature, a woman in pain who knew exactly where she was going. That brief image keeps flashing across my mental screen as I read tributes to one of America's truly great women, who died Tuesday at the age of 88.

A woman in an era when wealthy women did not work and almost no women went into politics, she may have achieved even more than her more famous brothers. Carla Baranauckas for The New York Times:

"When the full judgment of the Kennedy legacy is made—including J.F.K.'s Peace Corps and Alliance for Progress, Robert Kennedy's passion for civil rights and Ted Kennedy's efforts on health care, workplace reform and refugees—the changes wrought by Eunice Shriver may well be seen as the most consequential," U.S. News & World Report said in its cover story of Nov. 15, 1993.

A child of privilege with personal connections to pomp and power, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the marginalized. J. ...

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