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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Literature > Feature Interviews P to T > Mark Shriver

 

Mark Shriver

Mark Shriver

Writes About A Good Man

by Ronald Sklar

 

Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 20, 2013.

Mark Shriver writes a book about his dad, Sargent Shriver, first director of The Peace Corps and avid letter writer.

Mark Shriver recently published a memoir about his father, called A Good Man, [Henry Holt & Company] shortly after Sargent’s death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, at age 95.

Sargent Shriver was the first director of The Peace Corps and The Jobs Corps, among other organizations that helped people around the world escape poverty. He was also instrumental in President Johnson’s War on Poverty during the Sixties, as well as a driving force behind the Head Start program, which provides comprehensive education and nutrition to lower-income children.

Mark took his dad’s inspirational lead. He heads up the US division of Save the Children, which promotes children’s rights, providing relief and support for children in developing countries.

It’s also easy to see from his looks and from his commitment to public service that he is a Kennedy. His mother is Eunice Kennedy Shriver (President Kennedy’s sister), who died in 2009. Together with her husband, they brought to life The Special Olympics, which thrives to this day. Mark’s sister is Maria Shriver.

Here, we discuss Sargent Shriver’s imprint on the conscience of a generation, as well as what Mark has learned from this good man.

"A Good Man-Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver" by Mark ShriverYour dad helped so many people and yet remained humble. What was his driving engine?

I think it was just the way he saw life. There wasn’t any moaning about the past, worrying about his legacy. Somebody said to me, “This book is a great legacy for your dad.” It kind of threw me back, because I never thought about it. He never thought about his legacy, like “I need to name a building after myself.” I think it’s because he ultimately saw his work in the public sector and the private sector as a way to do the best he could with the gifts that God had given him. I know that sounds a bit old fashioned or maybe goofy, but that’s the way he operated.

He was a genuinely happy man.

He had a wonderful relationship with my mom. These were two really trailblazing people who had a marriage of 56 years. I knew he went to mass on a daily basis. I knew he had a ton of friends, and that people thought that he was special.

In this digital age, it actually seems quaint to learn that your dad was a dedicated letter writer.

He wrote me letters all the time, and I figured, “Oh, I guess everybody does that with their kids.” I realize that that’s not true. I thought everybody went to mass everyday and developed a relationship with God and then I realized that’s not true. I think the book really helped me pull all of those thoughts together.

Do you write letters and notes to your own kids now?

I write my kids now. I don’t write them nearly as much as my dad wrote me. But they keep them too. It will mean something different to them when they’re 21 and when they’re 31 and when they’re 41. To have something in your father’s handwriting and to realize that the guy was up at night thinking about you or thinking about some idea, it’s a powerful thing for a kid, even if the kid is 48 like I am.

What makes a handwritten letter so special, especially now that we have email and texts?

It has an impact on me as a human being, to see his handwriting and to just remember the pens he used to have in his jacket. They would explode and some of his jackets had ink stains on them. You remember these little things and you also remember that he took the time to write because he cared and he loved. That’s a nice thing to have at any time of your life.

My father wrote almost every night. I’d get one in the mail at college every day and after college as well.

A text doesn’t have the same emotional connection. My kids see that I take an 8 ½  x 11 piece of paper and write longhand to them. It means that I thought about it and it means something more than a quick text or a quick email.

Mark ShriverWhen your dad started The Peace Corps, it was not an immediate hit.

In 1960, when President Kennedy got elected, President Eisenhower thought the Peace Corps was a terrible idea. The Wall Street Journal editorialized against it. Countries were wary of allowing young Americans into their homes because they thought they were spies. They were coming out of this whole era of colonialism and here is the United States trying to send young people into this kind of work. There was a lot of opposition from host countries and from within this country. Yet dad created it out of nothing. And it’s been around for 50 years. Right in the middle of that, when it was four years old, President Johnson asked him to create the War on Poverty, and again, it was created out of nothing. He came up with the idea of programs like Head Start, which helps little kids enter kindergarten ready to learn. Then he took the Special Olympics all around the world with my mother. This is a guy whose whole life was dedicated to helping the poor both here and abroad.

After all of his achievement and outpouring of love, his being stricken with Alzheimer’s disease must have been devastating to him and the family.

When he was struggling with Alzheimer’s I asked him, “How does it make you feel?” Without missing a beat, he said, “I am doing the best I can with what God has given me.” I think that’s really the way he lived his life. He saw every moment and every person as a gift. He saw each day as a gift, as corny as that sounds.

Alzheimer’s is a brutal disease. As a country, we don’t spend enough time and resources trying to find the cure. It’s brutal to see someone you love fade day by day in front of your eyes. But there were also moments of joy and insight that were very helpful to me.

What new impressions of your father have you developed as a result of writing the memoir?

He was fully human. I needed to have that message reinforced. It just encouraged me to be a better husband and father and friend and spend more time with my faith. I keep going back to that expression, “I’m doing the best I can with what God’s given me.” I’m trying to figure it out. Am I doing the best that I can with what I’ve got? And to be comfortable with that. That’s hard to deal with in America too. In America, there is a lot of pressure to be the alpha male, to be the big dog, or to be the kind of guy who bosses your family around or boss your kids around, and that’s not what he was about. That’s something that is important to me that I’m trying to deal with on a regular basis.

Find out more:

The Peace Corps: www.peacecorps.gov

The Special Olympics: www.specialolympics.org

Save The Children: www.savethechildren.org

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Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 20, 2013

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Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 20, 2013.