Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking with Sargent Shriver . . .

First things first. I was sitting at my computer preparing to start writing today's blog post, when my e-mail dinged announcing that a message from WMRA community member Stanley Abbot had arrived. 
Sorry, Stanley wrote, as I listened to the news [about Chinese President Hu's upcoming state dinner] this morning, it came to me . . .
Knock Knock
     Who's There?
Why yes ... President ...
     President who?
Yes ... Is dinner ready?
And I (with Stanley's permission) am passing it on to you, on the theory that anyone can always use another knock-knock joke.
Now onto what I was going to write about before I got dinged. . .

Maria Shriver produced a 2008 documentary about her father she called American Idealist. And for once, it seems to me, everything was in a name, for Sargent Shriver seems to have been just that --an American idealist; able to visualize the best this country could be. Plus, he had the will, the clout, the energy, and the connections to make at least some of that best happen.

I sort of cooked dinner with Sargent Shriver once.

For a year back in the late 70's, Sargent Shriver's eldest son, Bobby,  and his nephew, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., ate dinner regularly at a small, Elliewood Avenue, restaurant I co-owned in Charlottesville. When Bobby (Shriver) got ready to turn 25, he asked if I'd be willing to host a family birthday celebration. Nothing special, food-wise, he said.. Just what I always cooked. It was just that he liked my restaurant and thought his family would like it as well.

The Kennedy Clan blew in on the night of the birthday party like a power surge; a flock of handsome, energized people obviously looking to enjoy themselves. I was back in the kitchen cooking, when here comes Sargent Shriver, chatting away, sticking his nose into pots, asking if there was anything he could do to help. Right behind him came his son, anxious that his father not get in my way; saying, apologetically, that his dad could be a bit much sometimes.

It was a fine, festive evening, as I remember it. And I thought of it yesterday when the news came of his death.  Sargent Shriver had finally stopped being a bit much at the age of 95.

R. Sargent Shriver, left, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver greeted the crowd during a swearing-in ceremony for Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Maureen Orth posted an appreciation of Sargent Shriver today on Vanity Fair. In it, she writes,

There wasn’t a tough job that Sarge did not do well. When John F. Kennedy asked him to run the Peace Corps, he joked that J.F.K. had no choice but to give the job to a brother-in-law due to its enormous potential for failure. A few years later, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Sarge to arrange her husband’s funeral, and he did so flawlessly. After heading the Chicago school board and becoming a leading civil-rights advocate, he was frequently mentioned as both an Illinois gubernatorial and senate candidate. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson very much wanted Sarge to be his running mate, but the Kennedys said absolutely not—it was Bobby’s turn first. Then it was Teddy’s turn.
Sarge loved running the very popular Peace Corps, but he reluctantly quit when L.B.J. twisted his arm to head the War on Poverty. Democrat George McGovern turned to Sarge to run with him as vice president, in 1972, after Tom Eagleton dropped out when it was revealed that he had undergone psychiatric treatment, but they lost big-time. Sarge also served as ambassador to France, and in the last decades of his life he and Eunice founded the Special Olympics and made it a worldwide force for the intellectually disabled. He was the kind of husband who seriously thought his wife should be canonized by the Catholic Church; Sarge himself was so devout that even as he was ravaged by Alzheimer’s in his later years, the two things he never forgot were his prayers and his manners. “You’re a good looking kid,” he said to my son a few years ago as he stuck out his hand in greeting. “Are you my son?”
R. Sargent Shriver, with wife Eunice, campaigning for vice president in 1972. (United Press International/ File)
There's not much else for me to say, is there?

I just hope, as the noisy news of the day pelts us, we'll still remember to take a moment to honor and respect the late Sargent Shriver's contribution to our country.

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