Yesterday, the White Flint area, and the world, lost a towering figure. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88, Stanford graduate, former social worker in penitentiaries, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan, was best-known for her life-long efforts on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities.
Her home for many years was “Timberlawn,” just off Rockville Pike in White Flint, down Edson Lane. It was a “farm,” studded with trees, with a narrow, gravel track for a driveway, just one car-width wide. The estate itself was a wide, sweeping green lawn set below a manor house. Today it is covered with houses. The Shrivers moved to Potomac, Maryland, in 1986.
In 1962, Shriver started a summer camp for the mentally-challenged on her big lawn in White Flint, intending to build their self-confidence by showing them that they could do the things that other summer campers were doing. It was the same year she revealed to the world that her sister Rosemary was mentally disabled. Today, the Special Olympics, which started on her “farm” in White Flint, operates in 170 nations, serving more than 3 million athletes.
My first job in White Flint was at Timberlawn in 1975, campaigning on her husband’s run for the Presidency. As far as I know, Sargent Shriver is the only major party Presidential candidate to have resided in White Flint, and his New Hampshire campaign built one of the first computerized networks connecting polling places across the state on Election Day. It wasn’t enough for victory; at Shriver’s press conference withdrawing from the race, the media, including Connie Chung from CBS News, scrambled for pictures of “the wife,” not the candidate. In a sign of the times, one member of the family said that, if she had been a man, Eunice would have run for, and won, the Presidency.
That may not have been her true interest. CNN reported that at an event honoring her in 2007, as her health was rapidly failing, Shriver said: “Most people believe I spent my whole life really interested in only one thing and that one thing is working to make the world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities.
“As important as it has been, it is not the whole story of my life. My life is about being lucky as a child to be raised by parents who loved me and made me believe in possibilities. It is also about being lucky to have had these extraordinary children. … It is also about being especially lucky to have a wonderful husband.”
Debbie Krieger, a White Flint resident, told me that she remembers sledding on the snow-covered hills at Strathmore many years ago, and having the Shriver family come out to join them. Krieger blushed a little and said, “We felt like they were royalty.”