Political analyst Mark Shields met Shriver in 1972, when Shriver replaced Eagleton on what turned out to be a losing Democratic presidential ticket. (Eagleton left the race when it was disclosed that he had been hospitalized for depression.)

As the campaign's political director, Shields discovered Shriver's insatiable appetite for ideas. "Ideas to Sarge had no gender. They had no sex or race or age," Shields said. "He just loved ideas."

Although he was a man of deep faith, Shriver was also a supreme rationalist, said the Rev. Bryan Hehir, a Catholic priest and longtime friend.

"He was convinced that you could solve anything if you thought about it long enough," said Hehir, a professor of religion and public life at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "He thought the human mind was made to conquer the Earth, and anybody who doubted that, he really didn't want to have anything to do with."

Luckily, Shriver found ample companionship. He collected people, said biographer Stossel: "Once you got absorbed into the Shriver orbit, you could not escape."

He found allies on the ski slopes, in churches and in coffee shops. He drafted them into his schemes for social change simply by asking for their help.

At 79, Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton. "In my lifetime, America has never had a warrior for peace and against poverty, a warrior to make peace the noblest of endeavors, like Sarge Shriver," the president said at the 1994 ceremony.

When he was 90, Boston's John F. Kennedy Library organized a forum in Shriver's honor. He was frail in the winter of 2005. Alzheimer's was stealing his memory, and his hair had turned snow white. Using a cane to help him walk, he entered with his wife beside him. The audience burst into cheers.

Onstage, his old friend, Kennedy advisor Harris Wofford, had been talking about Shriver's days in Chicago but abruptly changed course, declaring, "Here's the man who should have been president."

Shriver raised his arms as if to encircle the crowd of 500. "Hooray!" he shouted — and then beamed a smile that, for all of its years, had lost none of its magnetism.

In addition to his five children, Shriver is survived by 19 grandchildren.

Funeral and memorial details will be posted at http://www.sargentshriver.org.

Mehren is a former Times staff writer.

Times staff writer Valerie J. Nelson contributed to this report.