Eunice Kennedy Shriver dies at 88

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics and sister of former President John F. Kennedy, died early this morning at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

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Kennedy Shriver, 88, who had been in failing health, died surrounded by her husband Robert Sargent Shriver and her five children, including daughter Maria Shriver, California’s first lady, as well as all of her 19 grandchildren, according to a statement issued by the Special Olympics.

While Kennedy Shriver never held elective office herself, she was a familiar face in Washington for decades. Her husband, Robert Sargent Shriver, was an official in President Kennedy’s administration and was a vice presidential candidate in 1972.

Her surviving brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), said in a statement that the Americans with Disabilities Act would never have become law without his sister.

He said Eunice Kennedy Shriver was inspired by the love for her sister Rosemary Kennedy, who after undergoing a lobotomy in 1941 was left incapacitated, to help the disabled.

“Over the years, she grew those seeds into a worldwide movement that has given persons with disabilities everywhere the opportunity to lead more productive and fulfilling lives,” said Edward Kennedy, who learned he had a brain tumor last year and has been absent from Washington for months.

“Though the Special Olympics will be her enduring monument, in our family she’ll be remembered as a loyal and loving sister, a treasured wife to Sarge and a wonderful mother and grandmother,” he said in the statement.

President Barack Obama said Kennedy Shriver will be remembered above all as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who "as much as anyone, taught our nation — and our world — that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit."

Special Olympics hailed her as a leader for six decades in the movement to help the disabled.

“We are tremendously grateful for the extreme outpouring of support and prayer from the public as we honor our beloved founder,” Special Olympics President Brady Lum said in a statement posted on the organization’s website.

The family has requested that donations be made to the Special Olympics and to Best Buddies, a group dedicated to building friendships for people with mental disabilities, in lieu of flowers.

A tribute area to Kennedy Shriver is also being set up at Special Olympics Headquarters in Washington, as well as at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the JFK Museum in Hyannis.

This story was updated at 9:37 a.m.