By J. Taylor Rushing | Posted: 08/14/09 12:19 PM [ET] - 08/14/09 12:15 PM EDT
Eunice Kennedy Shriver was honored Friday morning at a funeral mass in New England that was also notable for the absence of her ailing brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The 950 estimated attendees at the two-hour event did not include the senator who is battling brain cancer and has not been seen publicly for several months.
Numerous New England media reported that Kennedy (D-Mass.) attended a private mass at the Shriver home on Tuesday night but did not appear at a wake on Thursday night and was not expected Friday. He was represented by his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, at Friday’s funeral.
Shriver's service at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis was attended by Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, as well as several state officials and legislators. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shriver's son-in-law, also attended the mass, as did celebrities such as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and musician Stevie Wonder.
Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics, died at 88 on Tuesday at a Cape Cod hospital.
Friday's event was closed to the public, although a public mass was held Thursday evening. The service was held in an ornate, cream-walled church lined with flowers and divided by a white cloth down the center aisle. Shriver's white-cloth-covered casket lay at the front, topped with multiple bouquets of white flowers and a single note card that read, “Mummy.”
Eulogized by her daughter, Maria, Shriver was described as “a fierce warrior for the voiceless” who championed the rights of women and the disabled in an era when neither was adequately appreciated, and as a woman who projected strength to the world yet practiced gentle compassion at home.
“She took adversity and turned it into advantage,” Maria Shriver said. “She believed 100 percent in the power and the gifts of women to change the language, the tempo and the character of this world ... She didn’t allow herself to be tamed or contained. The very same woman who made grown men quake in their boots when she set foot on Capitol Hill was the very same woman who spent quality time with each of us, making us feel loved and making us believe in ourselves. She didn't choose between being strong or soft, complex or simple.”
Earlier, Shriver's nephew Robert Kennedy Jr. told the New England Cable Network, “She took the assets that she was given and she turned them into something wonderful for the most vulnerable and alienated people in the world.”
Shriver's husband, Sargent, and the couple's five children — Maria, Mark, Anthony, Timothy and Robert — were pallbearers at the funeral.
Shriver conceived the Special Olympics after hosting events for disabled children at her Potomac, Md., home. She formally launched the effort in June 1968 at Chicago's Soldier Field stadium, and built it in the ensuing years. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Friday's service included a tape recording of Shriver's voice in an exhortation to Special Olympics athletes, telling them several times they have “earned” the right to compete in various sports.
More than 3 million Special Olympics athletes now train and compete year-round in all 50 U.S. states and 181 countries in numerous sports, according to the organization, including Winter Games and Summer Games.
“Documentaries, Wide-World-of-Sports presentations, after-school TV specials, feature films, cross-aisle Congressional teamwork and relentlessly positive global word of mouth have educated the planet about Special Olympics and the capabilities of the sort of individuals who were once locked away in institutions,” reads a note on a special tribute page to Shriver established by the Special Olympics. “Schooling, medical treatment and athletic training have all changed for people with intellectual disabilities as a result of Shriver's vision; more important, so have minds, attitudes and laws.
“It was a daughter who started all this. Born into wealth and power, the middle child of nine in this country's version of a royal family, Eunice Kennedy Shriver chose to lobby for the powerless.”