Tuesday, August 11, 2009

American Royal - Eunice Shriver - R.I.P.

Somewhere in the ethos of the American story came some immigrants from Ireland and then you have a saloon, politics, money, power and a dynasty is born – the Kennedy family.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of JFK and mother in law to the Governor of California has passed away. With her some of the glamour and tinsel and sparkle of an age more appropriate to a 1940s black and white Hollywood movie passes with her.

When I see the lives of that generation passing away, my parents’ generation, I have to examine the times and the circumstances of the things that made some people stand out more so than others in those rapidly fading bygone days.

The founder of the dynasty was Joe Kennedy Sr., son of a saloon keeper and therefore an arm of local democratic politics in Boston. He marries the daughter of the Boston mayor, makes a fortune the old fashioned way, through blood, guts and little glory so that his children can help fulfill his limited but obvious political goal of having one son become President of the United States.

In the movies they call it sexual tension between the male and female protagonists of the onscreen drama. In from the bogs of Ireland story to the landing on the American shore to take advantage of opportunity in the assets of a big wide open land, is a cultural tension - to not only make it and survive but to excel. In this manner the patriarch of the Kennedy tribe cast something indefinable into the mold of the lives of his children. His daughters, with trust funds, did more than what women of their generaton were supposed to do. They went far on their own and in their uniquely placed cultural manner. It was the boys, the princes Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby and Teddy who were destined to be thrust upon the world stage of potential greatness.

Have you ever seen the movie, the Wizard of OZ, when Dorothy opens the door and the screen goes from black and white into magnificent sparkling color? That was how it was like when JFK became President. A young handsome witty man married to a chic wife stood on the American stage of politics. The dull gray of the lingering Victorian era, of the world wars and the cold war and dullness of Eisenhower and his pure wasp cabinet gave way to Camelot as Jackie would later tag this one brief shining moment in American history. It was an age of great possibilities and indeed the exploration of space and the landing of men on the moon were a direct result of a saloon keeper’s son and his dream for the lives of his children as part of the greater American dream/myth.

Eunice Shriver has passed on at age 88. She did not live in the shadows of her male siblings. She founded the Special Olympics for the mentally disabled over four decades ago. She helped redefine how people with intellectual disabilities and limited abilities are defined, looked at, perceived by the public in general - globally. If you define greatness as the ability to make the world look differently at something, then Eunice Kennedy Schriver was great, not because of her family blood line, but because she has contributed to the world’s perception and view of individuals with disabilities. Pretty good payoff from old Joe’s trust fund etc.

I do not agree with the myth that the Kennedy family is an American Royal Family. But their combined legacy along with the legacy of a family member such as Eunice make them damn near as close to a royal family that this republic can visualize or allow.