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Shriver, who had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his final years, was surrounded by his five children and 19 grandchildren when he died in Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., his family said in a statement.
Shriver, the Democratic substitute nominee for vice president in 1972 and briefly a presidential candidate in 1976, was an advocate for the poor and powerless who helped launch President Johnson’s War on Poverty. He became the driving force behind social programs such as Head Start, Legal Services and VISTA.
Shriver, known as Sarge, helped his wife, Eunice Kennedy, who died on August 11, 2009, create the Special Olympics for mentally disabled children and adults in 1968. The Special Olympics, now run by their son Timothy, serves 1.4 million athletes in 150 countries.
It was Shriver’s marriage in 1953 to Eunice, daughter of diplomat and businessman Joseph Kennedy, that inducted him into the legendary Kennedy family and its generations of politicians and activists.
Late in life he became a famous in-law on the other side of the political fence when his daughter, television journalist Maria Shriver, married actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who later became a Republican governor of California.
Despite his own achievements and interests, Shriver “was willing, at times, to dim his own bright star to accommodate the whole shimmering constellation of Kennedys,” his biographer, Scott Stossel, wrote.
Shriver coordinated the crucial Wisconsin and West Virginia presidential primary campaigns for brother-in-law John Kennedy in 1960, and after the election he headed the search for administration appointments and staffers.
Once Kennedy took office, Shriver prepared a report on how to spread peace and understanding between the United States and other nations by forming a volunteer corps that would work to improve the quality of life in other countries.
The report led Kennedy to sign an executive order creating the Peace Corps, a program that came to symbolize the idealistic activism of the 1960s, and Shriver became its first director.
Shriver continued to lead the Peace Corps after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and helped to jump-start the War on Poverty before developing the plans for and directing the Office of Economic Opportunity, which provided a range of training, services and grants to the poor.
In that post, Shriver started programs such as Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Legal Services, Upward Bound, the Neighborhood Youth Corps and Community Action Program.
Shriver was ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970 and on his return to the United States traveled the country on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates in the 1970 election.
In 1972, Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern chose Shriver as his running mate after his first choice for the job, Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton, was revealed to have undergone electric shock therapy to treat depression.
McGovern and Shriver lost to incumbent President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew in a landslide.
Shriver was part of a crowded Democratic presidential field in 1976 in a race won by Jimmy Carter, who eventually defeated President Gerald Ford to win the White House.
“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.
Former President George W. Bush said Shriver left a “remarkable legacy of service.”
“Mr. Shriver was a kind and compassionate man who dedicated his life to serving others. He represented the very best of America in all his endeavors,” Bush said in a statement.
A Maryland native and Yale law school graduate, Shriver founded a group opposed to U.S. involvement in World War Two but later joined the Navy and renounced his anti-war stance.
After the war, he managed Joseph Kennedy’s Chicago Merchandise Mart for 12 years and helped organize Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson’s unsuccessful Democratic presidential campaign in 1952.
Shriver began his public service in 1955 in Chicago, where he served as head of the Board of Education for five years and directed the Catholic Interracial Council, a group established for the desegregation of the city’s schools.
Shriver and wife Eunice had five children. After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Maria wrote a book, “What’s Happened to Grandpa,” to explain the disease to children.
Copyright © 2011 Reuters