A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver

A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver

by Mark Shriver
A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver

A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver

by Mark Shriver



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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" Shriver—founder of the Peace Corps and architect of President Johnson's War on Poverty—died 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 life—faith, hope, and love—and 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805095326
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/05/2012
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: eBook
Pages: 288
File size: 623 KB

About 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.

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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A Good Man

Rediscovering my Father, Sargent Shriver

By Mark K. Shriver

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2012 Mark K. Shriver
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9532-6



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.



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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
1. Life and Death,
2. Going to the Chapel,
3. Soldier of Faith,
4. Growing Up a Son of Sarge,
5. Keeping Up with the Kennedys,
6. Peace Work,
7. Instigator of Hope,
8. Something Special,
9. Top Man,
10. Love in Action,
11. A Good Father's Love,
12. Making Peace,
13. Making a Choice,
14. Election,
15. Break Your Mirrors,
16. The Third Baseman,
17. Car Crash,
18. The Wanderer,
19. Birthday Party,
20. Up in Flames,
21. Rise and Fall,
22. Keeping Score,
23. Ireland,
24. Farewell, Friend,
25. Fun and Games,
26. I Will Yell No More,
27. Sailing Away,
28. Last Kiss,
29. Selling the Big House,
30. Love Giver,
31. A Holy Cross,
32. White Mass,
33. Love You with a Child's Love,
34. The Long Good-bye,
35. A Beautiful Day,
36. Shock Me with Your Love,
37. Grandpa!,
38. Packing Up a Life,
39. Try and Try Again,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

1. On page 3, Mark asks the question, "How could someone so full of life be so ready for death?" Sarge's life was a constant balance between living in each moment and excitement for the afterlife. Do you think that he struck good balance between them? Why do you think that he wrote, while still young and healthy, the letter to his family for when he was gone? How do you think that Sarge's experience in WWII, the early death of his own father, or the early death of so many members of the Kennedy family affected his perspective on death?

2. On page 40, Mark says that he believes that "the source of [Sarge's] constancy was his radical faith." How do you think that a radical faith can be the source of constancy?

3. On page 42, Mark says that Sarge was "not a politician," and describes a lack of ambition for the kind of power that comes with political office. Sarge had many advantages over other potential candidates: he was politically astute, related a prominent political family, had an untarnished record as a public servant, and had a devoted personal following. Yet, he never won a political campaign.

4. Sarge's work with the Peace Corps, civil rights, the War on Poverty, and the Special Olympics all have a theme of serving groups of people with societal disadvantages. Sarge was able to do this work without a "warped spirit of condescension" as Cardinal Stitch explains on page 68. Why do you think that Sarge is able to interact so easily with people of all intellect, advantage, and ability without condescension, even in casual encounters? How does his lack of condescension come through in other aspects of Sarge's life or his disease?

5. Sarge had prominent friends at the highest levels of public and private life, and yet his best friend was his "Top Man" and "loyal lieutenant," Richard Franklin Ragsdale or "Rags." What do you think it was about each man that drew them together? What did each gain and give to the relationship?

6. When Mark founds the Choice Program, he is offered money from the Catholic Church to support his secular organization. When Mark presents his dilemma to his father, Sarge's response is brief and to the point: "Hell, yes, take it.... Those kids don't care what synagogue or church you go to - they only care that you are showing up every damn day. Take the check, deposit it, and then work with those kids." Mark hesitates, but eventually accepts the money. Do you agree with Mark's decision? Do you agree with Sarge's reasoning?

7. Sarge lived his faith and applied it to nearly everything he did, something Mark describes on page 128 as "applied religion." Later, Mark says that his father did not take half-measures with his faith, something he describes as "radical orthodoxy." And yet, Sarge was able to change work within well-established and sometimes secular systems, such as the federal government and the Kennedy political machine, to effect change. How was Sarge able to apply a radical faith within these structures to effect change, without bucking the system itself?

8. Mark often describes feeling rushed in his everyday life and wonders how his father was able to balance the demands of home and work life. Mark describes one reason for this lack of feeling "in the moment" on page 129 as, "the trappings of my generation" which he describes as "consumed by transitory things." Do you agree with this assessment? Is the inability to live in the moment a symptom of life today, or are there trappings, albeit different trappings, that consume every generation?

9. On page 133, Mark says that Sarge loved the position of catcher in baseball because "it put him in the middle of the action, calling pitches and moving fielders around to take advantage of the batter and the pitch count." Catchers also work as leaders behind the scenes, getting little glory and even wearing a mask. What do you think it was about being a catcher that appealed to Sarge? How do you think that he "played catcher" in other aspects of his personal and professional life?

10. Although Mark associates himself very much with the Kennedy name, the focus of this book is not about his relationship with his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. What role do you think that his mother played in his life? Was she an iconic inspiration, like the other Kennedy's, or was she a living teacher, like Sarge?

11. Although popular discussion of the Shriver family is often dominated by the Kennedy family, the Shriver family holds a much longer place in American history, dating back to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and even the signing of the Maryland's Constitution and Bill of Rights. How do you think that his family's place in history affected Sarge's personality? How do you think that it affected Sarge's perspective on everyday life and on major life events, such as his father's financial ruin in the Great Depression? Do you think that it had any effect on Sarge's ability to see the long-term viability of projects like the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty?

12. Sarge was repeatedly called upon to bring complex new ideas from conception to fruition, ideas such as the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty. There are many reasons for Sarge's success in this type of task, including his inescapable optimism, can-do attitude, and his ability to see success where others lacked vision. Where do you think Sarge acquired the vision he used to see these projects through? What role do you think that his past played in that ability to see success? What role did his faith play? How do you think that these characteristics, or others, were important when Sarge was called upon to organize John F. Kennedy's funeral and other monumental family tasks?

13. Sarge describes the impact of Peace Corps workers as "bringing peace on earth. Not the abstract kind of peace that politicians talk about, but the peace that men feel in their bones when they are loved, or fed, or clothed, or housed." What are the differences between the two types of peace? Can one be achieved through the other? Do you think that world peace can be achieved through programs such as the Peace Corps?

14. On page 165, Mark describes his disappointment in himself for letting others down when he loses the race for the House of Representatives. Mark laments that he can't bounce back from his loss and disappointment the way that his father did after his loss in the race for vice president. Do you think that Mark, who was a child at the time, understood or perceived Sarge's emotions after the vice presidential loss? What do you think that Sarge was thinking or feeling after losing the campaign?

15. On page 190, Mark wants to ask his father, "Do you know what has become of you?" What answer would have made Mark feel better? What answer would you want - for yourself, or for a loved one? What does it mean to trade awareness for ignorance in his situation?

16. Sarge suffered several defeats in his life, including a very public loss of the vice presidency and an aborted campaign for governor of Illinois. By some measures, Sarge's life would not have been considered as successful as some of his more famous in-laws. Would you consider his life successful? Why? What is his definition of success?

17. Mark declares that he does not try to live up to his father, expressing the futility of such a goal. Yet on page 202, Mark says that Sarge's "example haunted me; I wanted to believe like he did, love like he did, but I felt I was falling short of the mark." How is living up to his father and living like him different? How is it the same?

18. Having a famous father can be difficult for anyone trying to find his own identity. Mark was in the less common situation of having, in addition to a famous father, a famous mother, and an even more famous extended family. Do you think that having multiple famous relatives, rather than his father as the sole family icon, made it easier or harder to form his own identity? Did the unusually high bar for accomplishment set by multiple members of Mark's family alter his own definition of a successful life? Does being surrounded by so many great achievements make achievement more or less special?

19. Despite seeing the enormous burden that financial ruin put on his own father, Sarge did not appear to be focused on the accumulation of wealth. What effect do you think his father's ruin had on Sarge? How do you think that this effected his perception of personal wealth in relation to self-worth?

20. Mark admits many shortcomings, including a lack of patience, when it comes to caring for his father. How would you have dealt with the situation differently?

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