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Sargent Shriver: A Man Of Public Service

Sargent Shriver, a brother-in-law of President John Kennedy, founder of the Peace Corps and architect of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," died yesterday in Bethesda, Md. He was 95.

The son of a banker, Shriver went to Yale Law School and earned a Purple Heart in World War II before marrying Eunice Kennedy in 1946. He had political ambitions, but put them aside to help his brother-in-law John F. Kennedy win the 1960 presidential election.

Shriver was named ambassador to France in 1968, at a time of strained relations with that nation. In 1972, he was named Democrat George McGovern's vice-presidential running mate on a ticket that lost by a landslide to Richard Nixon. Four years later, he launched his own presidential bid, which failed to gain traction in the 1976 primaries that sent Georgia's Jimmy Carter to the top of the ticket.

It was Shriver's work in the Kennedy administration that had the most lasting impact on the country. He was founder of the Peace Corps, and its director until 1966. And he developed a wide array of anti-poverty programs during the Johnson administration.

Fresh Air host Terry Gross spoke to Sargent Shriver in 1995, when the Great Society programs he helped engineer were under attack from prominent Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani. Shriver talked about the some of the initiatives, including Head Start and Job Corps, that have endured beyond the 1960's.

"We didn't give anything away for nothing," he told Terry Gross. "If you joined the Job Corps, you had to leave your home and work 10 hour days. You could quit -- and plenty did, without the courage or smarts to stay with it. But no one was drafted -- everyone had to volunteer."

The War on Poverty's programs required people to learn skills that then enabled them to lead better lives, he said.

"The way out of poverty was through human effort," he said. "People had to have motivation to move out of poverty. Then we'd help keep the motivation alive and aid it. But we didn't just hand out money to people who had no motivation."

Shriver was awarded the President Medal of Freedom in 1994. His wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, died in 2009. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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