Noteworthy accomplishments: Sargent Shriver's son recalls accomplishments of 'A Good Man'

Sargent Shriver talks to prospective Peace Corps volunteers in training at Rutgers University in this 1961 file photo. Shriver died last year, and his son Mark has written a book chronicling his life and what he learned from his father. Sargent is from Carroll County.
Sargent Shriver talks to prospective Peace Corps volunteers in training at Rutgers University in this 1961 file photo. Shriver died last year, and his son Mark has written a book chronicling his life and what he learned from his father. Sargent is from Carroll County. (AP File Photo)

When Mark Shriver was in college, he would get letters from his father.

They came daily, sometimes hand-written, sometimes typed. They might be about baseball, or dinner, or an idea that was floating about in his father's head. Sargent Shriver was full of ideas and never afraid to try them out.

Sargent, a Westminster native, was always busy. The brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, Sargent was the first director of the Peace Corps and helped spread the Special Olympics into a global enterprise.

Yet he always found time for his family. After Sargent's death two years ago, the Shriver family received condolences from all over the world. They echoed the same sentiment: that Sargent, while powerful, remained truly a good man. Mark shared his memories of his father in "A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver," a Washington Post Best-Selling book.

Shriver will participate in a book signing from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday at his family's Union Mills Homestead. Visitors will have the chance to meet Shriver and hear him discuss the family's link to Union Mills and how his father's background and faith played such a key role in his life.

Mark shared with the Times how he remembers his father.

Q: How often did you visit Carroll County with your father's close ties to the area?

A: My dad used to bring us up there to see the Homestead, to get a sense of the history of the state of Maryland and also the history of the Shriver family in Maryland. My father talked about his grandfather taking J.E.B. Stewart to the Battle of Gettysburg. My dad would take us over to the cemetery in Westminster where his mom and dad were buried.

Q: The book is called "A Good Man." Why did you use that as the title?

A: A lot of people claim he was a great man for creating the Peace Corps, Head Start, and through his work with my mom helping spread Special Olympics all over the world. But what I think really was important for me and hearing it from so many people was people considered him to be a good man, from the waitresses at his favorite restaurant to the guy who picked up trash in my neighborhood. I was struck by people who weren't big shots, what they thought about my father and how he was a good man. A lot of great men and women aren't good people, and I think it's ultimately what is most important in life.

Q: Despite how busy he was, it sure does seem that he never lost his relationship with God from beginning to end.

A: Absolutely. He went to Mass every day, and it didn't matter where he was, he went. He went to ask for help and support from God, and I think that gave him an incredible amount of energy. I think he believed that God was everywhere. I think he saw every moment as being a gift from God, which gave him incredible joy and energy.

Q: What was your father's role in helping spread the Special Olympics all over the world?

A: By working with my mom, he did something revolutionary in the sense of getting people with developmental disabilities into the mainstream. He used the Special Olympics as a way of knocking down walls of prejudice and misunderstanding. What happened 45 years ago in America, he did in China and all around the world. The International Special Olympics games were held in Shanghai a year before the Summer Olympics were held in Beijing. That was because of Dad. He took that message of justice to China.

Q: When you did research for this book, did you uncover a surprise story about your father that you did not previously know?

A: Yeah, I read this piece that he wrote that I had never read before about how he was scared about going into a leprosy ward, and he ended up going in because the person who worked in the leprosy ward was a Peace Corps volunteer nurse. It was a young woman. He said he was scared to go in, but he felt like he had to do it because a nurse, a woman working there, would. I always thought my dad was this brave guy, but he's also human.

Q: Your father played a leading role in planning the funeral of [his brother-in-law] John F. Kennedy. What was that like for him?

A: He found out on a Friday afternoon that Kennedy had been killed. He had been asked by Jackie Kennedy to organize it. I never really realized that the funeral was three days later. The more I think about him being a father having three young kids, with a pregnant wife and having to plan the most important funeral in 100 years in America since [President] Lincoln's assassination with people from all over the world coming in 36 hours and how much work and emotional stress that must have taken, it just awes me.

Q: Did he talk about it much?

A: He never did with me. I didn't have conversations with him about that. I guess, looking back, that I wish I had that conversation.

Q: Why do you think your father so frequently sent letters to you?

A: He would always write down what he was thinking. As I mentioned in the book, he would write me letters in high school, in college and after getting out of college. They were always in the context of thinking about ideas, thinking of different angles. It was all really showing his children, including me, that he loved us. He was thinking about us and would take the time to pull out a piece of paper and write a note.

Q: My mom does that, and I keep them in a second level of a filing cabinet. Did you keep a lot of them?

A: I've kept a lot of them but I couldn't keep them all because there was just so many. ... I wrote about those in the book. Just the act of writing shows this love for your children and love for others.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun