One of the most memorable interviews I had the pleasure of doing was with Eunice Kennedy Shriver when I was writing my weekly Assistive Technology column for Business Week on-line magazine.
I had been contacted by a woman who worked for the VSA arts and asked, “Would you like to interview Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver?”
The interview took place in her New York City Penthouse. On the day of my interview, I arrived early. Mrs. Shriver was busy, and I was told, “She will be here in 10 minutes.’
I did not mind waiting. God! I was fascinated by the museum of picture after picture of the Kennedys going back decades.It was a historian’s treasure. I was so busy looking at these pictures that I did not hear Mrs. Shriver enter. When I saw her, I was awed. She reminded me of a queen. I felt as though I was in the presence of royalty, but common royalty.
I had been told she would give me an hour, and I had to leave on the hour...
Before the interview started, I was offered a soft drink and cookies. Before the interview started, she talked about her family and some of the history associated with some of the photos. Before the started she told me, “My next appointment has been canceled, and so I can give you more time.”
I was thrilled.
Mrs. Shriver spoke with passion and pride when she spoke about the accomplishments of her brothers – Joe Junior, Jack, Robert and Ted. She was proud of her sisters Rosemary, Jeanne, Kathleen and Patricia.
“Rose Mary was the inspiration behind the founding of the Special Olympics,” Mrs. Shriver said. Mrs. Shriver never mentioned her sister’s intellectual disability. I assumed she knew that I knew about Rose Mary’s disability. I did.
As we talked about the universal growth of the Special Olympics, there was pride in her voice, a huge smile and radiance on her face. She never said the word retarded when speaking about the athletes in Special Olympics. The phrases “unique abilities,” “athletic abilities,”“their pride in competing,” and “their winning attitudes” were said many times. Her humanity, not pity, when speaking about the athletic abilities of intellectually challenged individuals showed. I knew then that I was in the presence of a remarkable woman who was a universal change agent.
I have always been a fan of the Massachusetts’ Kennedys. Their devotion to their country, their personal sacrifices and their commitment to public service are to be envied. I envied Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s commitment to champion the development of the abilities of young men and women with physical and cognitive disabilities. She recognized that the pride and discipline that these athletes exhibit in competition was carried into other endeavors.
Mrs. Shriver was interested in disabilities other than intellectual. We talked about communication disabilities and technologies to help people with speech disabilities. She asked me, “Will you please send my son information on any technologies that could help a Special Olympian?”
I did the following day.
I ended the interview satisfied that I had a good story.
Four years later, I met Mrs. Shriver at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. The VSA arts had an exhibit in the lobby. I introduced myself. She said, “I remember our meeting.”
We talked about some of the art work on display. She was proud of the VSA arts. After we looked at the art work then we went our separate ways.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a great woman who improved opportunities for millions of people with intellectual disabilities, their families and their communities worldwide.