As the Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary amidst cynicism from many Americans who
are often detached from the world around them, each of us can be inspired to serve and make a
difference by taking a moment to reflect on the contributions of Sargent Shriver.
On January, 18, 2011, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his brother-in-law's presidential
inauguration, Sargent Shriver -- the inspirational and beloved first director of the Peace Corps
In the most memorable inaugural address in American history, President John Kennedy called
citizens of our country and the world to come together in a common struggle against "tyranny,
injustice, poverty and war." Through the lens of time, it has become clearer the Peace Corps is
perhaps the truest expression of that common struggle.
The Peace Corps's relentless optimism and distinctive style in embracing working side by side
with others to address the issues of peace and inequality are most clearly identified with Sargent Shriver.
In the numerous eulogies written about Sargent Shriver across the country and around the world the common note was "Sarge," as his beloved volunteers called him, was a passionate advocate for peace and justice. He pushed us to be even better than we thought we could be so that tomorrow would be better than today.
Like many who joined the Peace Corps following the Sarge era (1961-66), I had a scant
understanding of who he was and what his role with the Peace Corps was other than he was
the founding director. I remember him vaguely as our ambassador to France during the Paris-based negotiations to end the Vietnam War and as the number two on the ticket with Senator George McGovern in the 1972 presidential elections. I also knew that he was married to Eunice Kennedy and played a role in the Special Olympics.
Over the past few years working at the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), I have
learned more about Sarge and now understand that he is one of the most remarkable men of the latter part of the 20th century. He was a social entrepreneur before we had the term, not only establishing the Peace Corps but also the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Poverty Law
Center, Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, Youth Corps, Senior Corps, and Special Olympics.
Taken together, these programs have given hope and improved the lives of tens of millions of
people at home and abroad.
Establishing one of these organizations would be an impressive accomplishment for many of us. However, what was truly extraordinary about Sarge was his incessant passion to make tomorrow better than today.
Shortly after starting at NPCA, I had the opportunity to visit with Sarge. At the time, he was in
his late 80s and already in declining health. He, however, was still regularly at his office, which was a room full of the visual mementos of an extraordinarily rich life, personally, professionally
I naively thought that he was a man who wished to discuss the past. Rather, he wanted to talk
about his life-long vision of a world more peaceful and prosperous, where all of god's children
would have the opportunity to live lives of purpose with dignity and commitment. Rather
than simply talking about it, Sarge in his trademark style challenged me to do all I could to do
something about it.
With his relentless eyes on the future and tireless commitment to making the world a better place is how we will remember Sargent Shriver. He is not gone, no, his vision lives on in all who
work for peace and justice.
In the past few years, his remarkable children -- Bobby, Maria, Tim, Mark and Anthony -- have
helped produce an inspiring biography written by Scott Stoessel -- SARGE: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver, and an inspiring documentary, American Idealist: The Life of Sargent Shriver, produced and directed by Bruce Ornstein. I highly recommend that all future volunteers working in public service have a chance to see this documentary and read this book. Knowing more about the Peace Corps and its history will make them better volunteers. By seeing this documentary, future generations of volunteers will hear Sarge's call to service and be inspired. They will feel truly fortunate to be part of his legacy in the endless effort to make a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Kevin F. F. Quigley (Thailand 76-79) is president of the National Peace Corps Association, the nation's leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps Community. To learn more, visit: www.peacecorpsconnect.org