Study Guide

Sargent Shriver in The Great Society Speech

By Lyndon B. Johnson

Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver's staff coined a word to describe their dynamo of a boss. A former aide remembered, "To 'shriverize' was to do it fast, and make it big and bold" (source).

Shriver was a can-do guy. He could've been a governor, a congressman, or maybe even president. Instead he worked tirelessly to help his famous brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy, win the White House in 1960. Then, at Kennedy's request, he helped the president-elect choose his top advisers.

When Kennedy needed someone to head up his signature program, the Peace Corps, he tapped Shriver. Under Shriver's leadership the Peace Corps flourished. Between March 1961 and February 1966, programs were started in 55 countries and more than 14,000 American volunteers had ventured overseas.

Having organized the peace for JFK, in 1965 Sarge went to war on poverty for LBJ. Shriver brought more than exceptional skills to the post. His connection to the Kennedys was a positive reminder of the hopes of the martyred president. And Shriver was a true believer in the fight against want and inequality. In the words of historian James T. Patterson, he was "evangelically enthusiastic" (source).

As the head of LBJ's Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver became the architect of the war on poverty. He put his stamp on Head Start, the Job Corps, (a much-needed system of legal services for the poor), and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA, a Peace Corps-like program for the U.S.).

Shriver seemed to be everywhere at once. During the ceremony to announce the launch of Head Start, Johnson joked, "Open nearly any door here in the West Wing and you are liable to run into Sargent Shriver, and sometimes you will find him in more than one room at the same time" (source).

Shriver likely wouldn't have had it any other way. He was in the midst of a revolution—and happy to be there. The War on Poverty, he said, "was an attempt to energize and empower poor people. That's rarely if ever done by an elected government" (source).

Sarge would go on to serve as the U.S. ambassador to France. He ran for vice president on the losing Democratic ticket in 1972 and briefly mounted a campaign for president in 1976.

But he might best be remembered today for his long involvement with the Special Olympics, founded by his wife, Eunice. Or for being the father of Maria Shriver and one-time father-in-law to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Nah, we're pretty sure it's the Special Olympics.