A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriverby Mark Shriver
In this intimate portrait of an extraordinary father-son relationship, Mark K. Shriver discovers the moral principles that guided his legendary father and applies them to his own life
When Sargent "Sarge" Shriverfounder of the Peace Corps and architect of President Johnson's War on Povertydied in 2011 after a valiant fight with Alzheimer's,/b>
In this intimate portrait of an extraordinary father-son relationship, Mark K. Shriver discovers the moral principles that guided his legendary father and applies them to his own life
When Sargent "Sarge" Shriverfounder of the Peace Corps and architect of President Johnson's War on Povertydied in 2011 after a valiant fight with Alzheimer's, thousands of tributes poured in from friends and strangers worldwide. These tributes, which extolled the daily kindness and humanity of "a good man," moved his son Mark far more than those who lauded Sarge for his big-stage, headline-making accomplishments. After a lifetime searching for the path to his father's success in the public arena, Mark instead turns to a search for the secret of his father's joy, his devotion to others, and his sense of purpose. Mark discovers notes and letters from Sarge; hears personal stories from friends and family that zero in on the three guiding principles of Sarge's lifefaith, hope, and loveand recounts moments with Sarge that now take on new value and poignancy. In the process, Mark discovers much about himself, as a father, as a husband, and as a social justice advocate. A Good Man is an inspirational and deeply personal story about a son discovering the true meaning of his father's legacy.
“Since most people are happiest doing what they are good at, it's no wonder that Sargent Shriver was always smiling. He was good in every role he filled--husband, father, friend, public servant, and visionary. And he was as inspiring as they come. Mark's poignant tribute captures the idealism and exuberance that made us all love Sarge, and reminds us to find pleasure in the simple act of living.” Former President Bill Clinton
“This tender, endearing memoir is a moving portrait of a son's struggle to deal with the gradual disappearance of a beloved father through the progressive stages of Alzheimer's. It is a praiseworthy book.” Doris Kearns Goodwin
“This is a deeply touching story of a famous family and the private joys and trials that came with it. Mark's love letter to his Dad is one we can all learn from.” Tom Brokaw
“As founder of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver had the genius to change lives, mine included. With this powerful book, his son Mark shows a great man can also be a good man. What a joy to read about Sarge, the father. In a real way, he was father to everyone who ever served in the Peace Corps.” Chris Matthews
“What a lovely book this is. It's funny and sad and inspiring without being insipid. Why was it, this loving son wanted to know, that everyone described his highly accomplished father, Sarge Shriver, as a ‘good man'? In the middle of the active and ambitious Kennedy and Shriver families, Mark Shriver comes to understand his father's faith in God's love anchored him and allowed him to do all that he did so well, including dealing with his own Alzheimer's. In getting to know his father better even after his death, Shriver learns some lessons useful to all of us.” Cokie Roberts, author of We Are Our Mothers' Daughters
“In A Good Man, Mark Shriver gives a rich personal account of growing up with a father whose boundless optimism and life of public service made a profound difference for millions of people. Read it and come away, like Mark, reenergized and re-inspired to follow Sargent Shriver's extraordinary example.” Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
“Asking around, in order to write about Sarge Shriver, I could find no one with a bad word to say about him. This book tells why. The mystery of goodness is deeper than the mystery of evil.” Garry Wills
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A Good Man
Rediscovering my Father, Sargent Shriver
By Mark K. Shriver
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2012 Mark K. Shriver
All rights reserved.
LIFE AND DEATH
My mom was one month pregnant with me when she accompanied her older brother Jack to the home country, the Republic of Ireland. Jackie Kennedy was under doctor's orders not to go on the trip with her husband. She, too, was pregnant but had been put on bed rest. Mom didn't tell anyone that she was pregnant, for fear of missing the trip of a lifetime—the first Irish Catholic president visiting the family homeland, and Mom playing the role of First Lady! Nothing was going to hold her back from going to Ireland. The crowds were raucous everywhere they went—as if a long-suffering people had shed the curse of centuries of poverty to occupy the White House right along with Ireland's most famous export.
But the joy felt on this trip would not last long—just two months later, the First Family's two-day-old son, Patrick, died. Ireland and America grieved.
I obviously had no idea of the additional drama I was soon to be born into. Surely a magical realist writer like Gabriel García Márquez could have plumbed the narrative possibility of telling the story of Jack's assassination from the perspective of a baby inside the womb of the dead president's sister. The details I would have witnessed from that privileged perch: On Friday, November 22, Mom called Dad from the obstetrician's office to see if he could sneak out of the Peace Corps office for lunch with her and my soon-to-be older brother Timmy. They waited for him at a table in the dining room at the Hotel Lafayette. She was pregnant at age forty-two, but with her strong jawline and few wrinkles, she looked thirty and had the energy of a twenty-something. She would go on to have my brother Anthony at forty-four, and she dared, contrary to the tenets of medicine and the culture, to get pregnant again at forty-six, albeit losing the baby in a miscarriage.
No doubt she was happy that day, doubly so as Dad entered the room and smiled at her because he already knew the appointment had gone well. They didn't know yet that a boy would follow Bobby, Maria, and Timmy—they waited for that to reveal itself the old-fashioned way.
After a little while, the waiter came over to the table and told Dad that he had an urgent call from his assistant.
As Dad walked back to the table, Mom, I assume, could detect the change in his demeanor. He surely wasn't smiling; I suppose he was staring at her, studying her, and that his whole gait and facial expression had grown grave.
He sat down, and must have run through the consequences of what he was about to tell her: How would it affect the health of a woman whose beloved father had had a debilitating stroke? Whose oldest brother, Joe, had been killed in World War II when his plane exploded over England on a secret mission? Whose older sister had died in an airplane crash in France shortly after the war? How would the news affect the health of that baby—me—whom he saw as a sacred gift from God?
He surely collected himself, soothing her eyes with his. He spoke softly and assuredly, somehow making slightly bearable the incomprehensible news that her brother had been shot.
They left the restaurant and headed to the Peace Corps building, where a wire flash announced that Jack had died. Mom and Dad and a few Peace Corps staffers knelt and prayed in Dad's office. More reports poured in, confirming the news. Dad called a quick staff meeting and decided to send a wire to Peace Corps staff around the world, informing them of what had happened and reassuring them that the Peace Corps would continue its work.
Dad asked his assistant, Mary Ann Orlando, to take Timmy and gather my other future siblings together at our home in Rockville, while Mom and he went to the White House. There they met with both Uncle Bobby and Uncle Teddy and decided that Mom and Teddy would go to Massachusetts to be with their mother and father, and Bobby would go to Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland, to meet the arrival of Air Force One. Dad was ostensibly in charge at the White House.
Hours later, Jackie Kennedy sent word that she wanted Dad to lead the planning of the funeral.
Soon after that, he learned that the mutual disdain between Bobby and the new president, Lyndon Johnson, threatened the smoothness of the transition and the basic functioning of the government. And he, a soon-to-be father (again) whose greatest preoccupation had been the health of his wife, was one of the few people who could bridge the gap and help the stunned country maintain its footing.
For the next few days he slept just an hour a night; he stopped working only to make his frequent calls to Mom to bolster her. He grasped the national craving for a funeral unlike any other—stately yet healing, official yet personal.
Were García Márquez telling the story, he would have shown how a steady father began to radiate his faith and hope and love to his unborn son, sparking my lifelong devotion to him.
Fiction aside, I firmly believe that Dad's faith in God gave him the strength and the discipline to orchestrate the funeral events—at times grisly, at times heartbreaking, by turns wrapped in ambition, intrigue, chaos, pathos, and raw grief.
Jackie had requested that Uncle Jack lie in state in the East Room of the White House, as had President Lincoln, and that the room be made over to look as it had then. Dad immediately called upon Jack's favorite artist, Bill Walton, to handle this assignment. Together they decided that to replicate exactly the appearance of the White House after President Lincoln's death, as requested, was impossible because of the physical changes inside the building since then. They did, however, drape black crepe over much of the East Room. Since the White House had no exterior lighting, Dad worked through the night to arrange for hand-lit torches to line the driveway. At three-thirty on Saturday morning, the Washington highway department delivered the torches, creating a scene that was seared in the nation's memory.
At just that time, Dad realized that there were no military personnel at the White House to form an honor guard that would act as an escort for Uncle Jack's arrival. Dad told a White House aide to call the marine barracks in D.C. and request men in full dress uniform. Within twenty minutes, twelve men from the Marine Silent Drill Platoon had been roused out of the barracks and, in full dress uniform, appeared at the White House.
When Jackie and the coffin arrived just a few minutes later, at fourthirty A.M., Dad stood at the doorway to greet her and direct the military pallbearers.
There were countless other decisions to be made, some immediately but all within the incredibly short time frame of three days: whom to invite to the funeral and where, mindful of protocol, to seat each person; where President Kennedy should be buried, and whether he should lie in state in an open or a closed casket.
Dad worked with Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston and Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle of Washington, D.C., to iron out the details of the funeral Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral. The church leaders wanted a High Mass, but Dad convinced them that the less formal Low Mass was more appropriate, because that was the ceremony President Kennedy had preferred.
On the day of the funeral, the White House was jammed with heads of state who had flown in from all over the world on just a few hours' notice. According to Dad's former colleague Dr. Joe English,
It was the largest gathering of heads of state ever, and Angie Duke, the chief of protocol at the State Department, asked Sarge to greet them.
Sarge said yes, and then he asked me to grab a box of Mass cards. I got one just before they were taken to St. Matthew's Cathedral for the funeral Mass. I gave them to Sarge.
The first person he greeted was Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, who was just over five feet tall. Selassie was crying when your dad handed him the card and said, "Your Majesty, I want this card to be a memorial of President Kennedy, who loved your country very much."
Selassie said to him, "President Kennedy needs no memorial in our country because he has three hundred of his children working there today," a reference to the Peace Corps volunteers.
Then your dad gave a card to French president Charles de Gaulle, who was six-five. The contrast between the two men—it was a surreal moment. Sarge went through the entire room shaking hands and saying a word or two to every leader, and every one of them was crying.
Throughout the ordeal, Dad was one of the few "Kennedy insiders" who maintained a working relationship with President Johnson and his advisers. During those tense days between the assassination and the funeral, Dad had to walk a tightrope between the grieving Kennedy family and the new president over issues of significant importance to the nation. When would Johnson make his first televised address to the country? When would he assume his place in the Oval Office? What Cabinet changes might he make?
Overhanging it all was the tension between President Johnson and Bobby. Indeed, Dad, while planning the funeral, met regularly with Johnson to urge him not to let paranoia and personal animosity interfere with appropriate mourning and a proper transition.
Dad's steadfastness, almost otherworldly, enabled him to command the attention of the grief-stricken, the power-hungry, and the anxiety-ridden alike.
As we were arranging for Dad's funeral, decades later, I heard about how masterfully he'd orchestrated my uncle's. I stayed up late the night after he died, plowing through files and scrapbooks, and I came across a photograph of the procession the day of Jack's funeral. Dad walked behind Jackie, as had been planned. Few cameras noticed him, but his gaze conveyed an assuredness and direction, a resolution, that almost no one else in the crowd had.
In an article written for True magazine months after the assassination, Robert Liston aptly captured Dad's central role in managing the myriad logistics behind Jack's funeral:
This scene, and those brutally emotional ones which pinned the world to its television sets for the next three days, came more out of Shriver than out of anyone else. Mrs. Kennedy's wishes were dominant, but it was he who translated them into the multiplicity of details which lent majesty to the national tragedy and moved a nation to tears.
He was, at times, the dynamic executive, forgetting personal feelings to get a tough job done well—and going without sleep and food in the process. He was the man of seemingly endless energy, still running strong when younger men were ready to drop. He was the aesthetic man of taste and sensitivity, the proper greeter of dignitaries at the White House and the family man in step behind Jacqueline Kennedy on her mournful march to her husband's funeral.
I am certain that Dad's central focus was not creating a majestic national funeral as much as it was instilling the faithfulness and the peacefulness of an eternal homecoming for the assassinated president. He was accompanying a president to be buried but, more important, he was hastening the soul of a loved one on the way to meet his Maker and know everlasting life.
That is a big supposition, but understanding the depth of Dad's faith now, I know that a proper funeral—a sacred ceremony—was foremost on his mind that day.
From addressing the rumored threat of another assassination to satisfying a nation's craving for solemn pageantry, from consoling a grieving widow to calming his grief-stricken, pregnant wife, from balancing a functioning government to honoring a dead man and his empty office, he fulfilled all his tasks with such grace because they were, simply, secondary. They were the things of this world—duties to be completed and completed well. But he wanted first and foremost to ensure a proper Catholic burial for the first Catholic president of the United States. Proper passage to life with God was what his dead brother-in-law most deserved.
He enacted his faith on that first night. He wanted a crucifix to be placed on the coffin, but the only options found that late on a Friday were inappropriately elaborate. Instead, he sent a car to retrieve the simple crucifix from above his bed so that it could be laid on the president's casket. He removed it on the morning of the funeral. A few months later, sent by President Johnson to meet the pope, he took the crucifix down from his wall again and carried it to Rome to be blessed. A few days later, he asked the head of the Greek Orthodox Church to bless it. That crucifix hung over his bed for years, until he encased it in a concrete cross that now stands over his parents' grave site in Westminster, Maryland.
We are all born into a web of relationships and circumstances, tragedies and opportunities. As I was coming into this world, my family lived through parades in Ireland one day and a funeral procession soon after. We never get to choose. My life in a famous and often star-crossed American clan would not be without its trials and disappointments, but I had as my father a man who not only was faith-filled and disciplined but who also insisted, in large part because of his faith, on the grace and joy in life. He possessed, and insisted on to me and his family and friends, a sustaining and empowering awareness of God's active grace in the world. When I was a young boy, that quality in him saved me from hopelessness; as I became an adult, it slowly shaped my vision for how to live, especially once I had to undertake the stern stuff of living without him.CHAPTER 2
GOING TO THE CHAPEL
Growing up, we regularly visited the Shriver homestead in Union Mills, Maryland, where the Shrivers settled in the 1700s. The homestead, now a museum, is in the rolling countryside, not far from the Pennsylvania line, on the road to Gettysburg. The extended Shriver family lived there along Big Pipe Creek, a fast stream that powered a busy gristmill. They soon built a tannery and canning operation in addition to their farming complex. Dad was born and raised in Westminster, Maryland, which was just seven miles from Union Mills, but he spent his summers at the homestead, and in his eyes, it was his true home.
On one trip—I must have been six years old or so—we ate tomato aspic canned by the B. F. Shriver Canning Company. I can taste it still, so tart and sharp it shocked me.
Dad loved to go home and walk around the property. He was six foot one, with thick, graying hair, an athletic build, and energy in every step. He wore his customary coat and tie, but more as a sign of respect than formality. His handshake and warm, friendly smile immediately put everyone at ease.
He bounded out of the car, excited to show us his childhood home. He pointed out little bits of history with such enjoyment and respect that it gave me the awe for history I still have today.
"Let's go," he'd exclaim. "Now, watch your head as you walk in the front door. The ceilings are so low—this house was built years and years ago, when people weren't as tall as they are today."
I marveled at the low ceilings and warped floors. You could set a marble on the floor and it would roll to the other end of the room. Dad pointed out the room where Washington Irving spent the night and where James Audubon stayed as well. He showed me the German barrel organ that dated from 1780, which was used to entertain visitors. He showed me the section of the house that served as the first post office for Union Mills and the balcony, a replica of the one at Monticello, where the Shrivers made political speeches. He told me about his great-great-great-grandfather David Shriver, who served in the Maryland legislature for thirty years and was a member of the Revolutionary War's Committee of Safety and Maryland's Constitutional Convention.
Another story he often told was about his own grandfather Thomas Herbert Shriver, who, at sixteen years of age, led Confederate General J. E. B. Stuart and his cavalrymen to the Battle of Gettysburg. His parents allowed him to do so only after General Stuart promised to write a recommendation for him to Virginia Military Institute. He went to VMI the next year and later joined about three hundred of his fellow VMI cadets in a battle at New Market, Virginia. He was shot and wounded, but the cadets soundly defeated the 34th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army. Dad was proud of his grandfather, not just because he led General Stuart to Gettysburg but also because of his bravery during the war.
After the war, Thomas Herbert Shriver joined an older brother, B. Franklin Shriver, in creating the B. F. Shriver Canning Company. He also represented Carroll County for one term in both the Maryland House of Representatives and the Maryland State Senate and was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1908 and 1912.
Excerpted from A Good Man by Mark K. Shriver. Copyright © 2012 Mark K. Shriver. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Mark K. Shriver is the senior vice president of U.S. Programs at Save the Children in Washington, D.C., and a former Maryland state legislator. Shriver also started the Choice Program and served on the coalition to create the National Commission on Children and Disasters following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He lives with his wife and three children in Maryland.
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This book gives a great look at a man who was truly in the shadows of The Kennedy Family and it did not matter since he was not answering to The Kennedy's, rather living his life thru his faith. The stories of growing up with Sargent Shriver as your Father and endless Kennedy cousins are funny, sweet and sad. I would highly recommend this book if you want to read about a great man with a gentle soul. Loved the book.
For any father who has to balance the various competing demands in his life, which is probably all fathers, "A Good Man" provides insights into one truly successful father's journey through life. Mark Shriver's "A Good Man" is one son's view of the life of a "Great Man" - a public figure of huge stature - who was also a truly good man in all aspects of his life. The book features Mark Shriver's insight and perspective into the experience and choices his father, Sargent Shriver, made for himself, his family and those he worked with and served. Reading the book, there are sections where the author brings you close into the relationship with his father and the actions that he took on a personal and professional level. The narrative is an interweave of many diverse literary strands: biography, history, insights on faith, life, learning, the author's own relationships as brother, husband, father and public citizen all in the context of his relationship with his father. The narrative is at once very personal as it is universal and broadly applicable, particularly to any father struggling to do his best with his children. This a is great read for Father's Day.
Sargent Shriver was called to fulfill a role and He did with suh grace. Born, lived and died an orginal and has left a legacy for many generations. Thank you Mark for sharing the precious details of your father with us. This will surely impact my life for a very long time. Now I understand why I admire your sister Maria who always seemed so poised everytime she appeared in public. The teacher taught and she listened. He certainly was a "GOOD MAN."
Eulogies often happen before we can fully appreciate what we have lost. Mark Shriver's eulogy pretty much sums up a lot about his dad, Sargent Shriver. Nonetheless Mark needed to rediscover his father and has done an outstanding job of fleshing out a wonderful man in the almost year and a half since Sargeant Shriver's death due to Alzheimer's. An advanced reader's copy of this book was mailed to me by the publisher, Henry Holt and Company with permission to quote from the manuscript. Mark's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics and Sarg Shriver the Peace Corps. While there is much Kennedy trivia, mystique and accomplishments that can be noted in the book, I want to zero in on how faith here is passed from generation to generation, and how Sargent Shriver dealt with his own Alzheimer's. Mark writes that Sarg went to Mass every day, even when he was in other countries. Furthermore, Sarg's faith wasn't just a ritualistic habit. Mark writes: “Dad was a radical, a hell-raiser who based his revolutionary public service on very orthodox instruction manuals: the Scriptures, his faith's creeds and prayers, and the life of Jesus Christ. . . . Dad lived out applied religion. He applied his faith's ethics every day to everything he did. His paradox--his radical orthodoxy--allowed him to conform to the requirements of a life in public service.” Despite admitting his own insecurities and early anger, Mark comes to terms with faith, hope and love reflecting on his father's death and faith. “I liked to think about faith, hope and love at church and talk about these ideas with my kids. But apart from a few minor struggles, I never needed them as if life depended on them. . . . It is ironic that so often the first time we have to use them for real--our parents' principles and examples and tools--comes when they themselves age, suffer, and die. My capacity for faith, hope, and love wasn't truly battle tested like his--until the day we learned what he would die from, and the ways in which he was going to suffer in the years leading up to his death.” Eventually Mark, the fourth of five siblings, was in charge. He handled finances, medical care and "each small step in his decline became another devastation for me" (p. 5). In 2003 Mark's brother Timothy approached his father about resigning from his job as Chairman of the Board for the Special Olympics. Sarg graciously resigned and continued showing his same values and care for others. Perhaps the most interesting dialogue between son and father came when Mark said to his father, "You are losing your mind. You know that. How does that make you feel? How are you doing with that?" Sarg replied: “I'm doing the best I can with what God has given me.” Mark was totally in awe of how his father let God be in control and asked for God's guidance every day of his life. This is where his father's joy came from. Thank you, Mark Shriver, for bearing your soul and all you have learned in the end. in your book about your father, Mark, you have discovered your own happiness.
She is a gold digger
This is an excellent portrayal of a man, who though highly intelligent and a strong leader, is driven by love of God and need to be of service to others. Though I may not have always been in agreement with his political programs, truly this is a Good Man!
I loved this book. Sargent Shriver has always been one of my favorite people. I had tears reading almost every chapter.
This was an excellent book about a great man. I remember Mr. Shriver so well from the period of the Kennedys and beyond the Kennedys. He gave his children such dignity and understanding of mankind. He truly walked the talk as they say. His son wrote a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man. I had tears by the end of the book. It is too bad that we don't have such men today in politics. Today we have politicians who only think of themselves and not about the American people. Sargent Shriver is a great American. Thank you Mark Shriver for writing such a wonderful book about a Good Man. If you follow in your father's footsteps, you will also be a good man.
With all the riches and notiarity anyone related to the Kennedy's has, Sargent Shriver remained true to his values, his faith and his family. None of it easy to do in this day and age.