Saturday, January 22, 2011

R. Sargent Shriver, Jr., 1915-2011

Sargent Shriver Portrait
    R. Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps, passed away at the age of 95 last week.  The timing is significant, as the Peace Corps approaches its 50th Anniversary in March.  In his New York Times obituary, he is quoted as saying:
‎"Break mirrors. Yes, indeed. Shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor and less about your own.”
Below the jump is a historical excerpt from his time as Peace Corps' Founding Director.  R. Sargent Shriver left a lasting legacy of public service, not just amongst the more than 200,000 volunteers who have served in the agency's 50 years, but amongst all Americans.  The Peace Corps family is grieving the loss of this incredible public servant this week, but more importantly, we are remembering his call to service.

Thank you Sargent, for all you taught us.

History of the Peace Corps during Shriver’s tenure as founder and first Director (1960-1966):
“The Peace Corps represents some, if not all, of the best virtues in this society. It stands for everything that America has ever stood for. It stands for everything we believe in and hope to achieve in the world.” 
- Sargent Shriver

The idea of the Peace Corps was born out of the optimism, idealism, and energy that coalesced around the presidential candidacy of President John F. Kennedy.  It was on Oct.14, 1960, when then-Sen. Kennedy issued a challenge to students at the University of Michigan to serve their country and live and work in the developing world. Kennedy’s speech lasted only a few minutes, but he outlined a vision that would become the Peace Corps.
A few months later, President Kennedy was sworn-in and his inaugural address reverberated throughout the country and the world when he said, “Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves…”  A large part of “our best efforts to help” would be realized through the Peace Corps, which was still a vague idea until President Kennedy called on his brother in law, Sargent Shriver, the next day, asking him to lead a task force to establish the agency.
Fifty years later, it seems all but unimaginable that Shriver and his task force, in just one month, could draft a report outlining the current mission and design of the agency and submit it to the White House. Soon thereafter, on March 1, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps, and on March 4, he named Shriver the agency’s first director.
Then in August 1961 – just 10 months after President Kennedy’s speech at the University of Michigan – the first group of Peace Corps volunteers headed to their assignments in Ghana. Between March and September, Shriver found the time to travel to developing countries to ask foreign leaders to host Peace Corps Volunteers, to persuade Congress to pass legislation to fund and operate the Peace Corps, to oversee the initial staffing and running of a federal agency, and to ensure the agency’s independence from the foreign policy establishment.  In September 1961, Congress approved legislation for the Peace Corps, giving us the mandate to “promote world peace and friendship.”  Our mission remains the same today.
Sargent Shriver talks to a group of potential Peace Corps Volunteers. 1961
Sargent Shriver talks to a group of potential Peace Corps Volunteers. 1961
By December of 1961, there were more than 500 Peace Corps volunteers serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan, with an additional 200 Americans in training for service across the U.S.
By 1963, Shriver was leading an agency with more than 6,500 volunteers serving in nearly 50 countries.  It was an extraordinary effort that only could have been accomplished by a leader with immense skill, audacious vision, and indefatigable energy.  Shriver’s idealism and enthusiasm were essential to the creation and character of the agency; he is the founding father of the Peace Corps.
Shriver concluded his service as the Peace Corps’ first director on Feb. 28, 1966.
Since that time, Shriver’s spirit and dedication to service have remained ever present in the agency.  Shriver once wrote: “Working with the Peace Corps should not be like working with another government agency.  We have a special mission which can only be accomplished if everyone believes in it and works for it in a manner consistent with the ideals of service and volunteerism.”
The Peace Corps remains committed to Shriver’s principles and we are honored to call him our founding father.
For more information on his life visit

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