News of the illness and death of Sargent Shriver made me think about the hour I spent with him on September 8, 1972.
I was a student at the University of Missouri, and through a set of circumstances that I don’t recall I found myself manning a PA system on the steps of the Hillel Foundation building adjacent to the campus for a campaign appearance of Missouri’s junior Senator Thomas Eagleton and Sargent Shriver.
A few days earlier, George McGovern‘s presidential campaign had named Shriver as his running mate, in place of Eagleton, in reaction to undeniable allegations that Eagleton had received electroshock therapy for depression several years earlier.
The Committee to Re-Elect the President was doing its magic to assure that Nixon would get his chance to serve a second term. Columnist Jack Anderson, the Bill O’Reilly of his day, had reported without substantiation that Eagleton had been stopped on suspicion of drunk driving. The Watergate burglaries had taken place three months earlier, which gave the well-funded Nixon campaign a tremendous incentive to take the offensive.
As we took our positions on the makeshift dais, I noticed that Eagleton’s face seemed to show the extreme hurt that had been inflicted on him. Rory Ellinger (now a lawyer in St. Charles), the head of the campus Democratic organization, had the honor of introducing the speakers.
With Eagleton standing beside him, Ellinger led off with, “Thomas Eagleton collects friends like other people collect postage stamps,” which created an image that I thought to be odd. I squirmed and looked at Shriver, still seated, who grinned and gave me a wink.
When Shriver stood up to speak, he managed to show his respect for Eagleton without showing pity. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but when he ended, he took Eagleton’s hand and raised it with his and spoke of a victory over Nixon that none of us believed would occur, at least at the ballot box.
Shriver had great charm and strength. He got along with LBJ and JFK. He was the son-in-law of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and the father-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time I met him, he had founded and guided the Peace Corps and directed the War on Poverty at a time of horrible rioting and the assassinations of two of his wife’s brothers.
While I can’t say that I really knew him, I can say for certain that he was kind to Thomas Eagleton at a time when Eagleton really needed it. And he was nice to me that day.