If you’re sitting down with the audaciously titled Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eileen McNamara, you may find yourself exhausted by vicariously participating in the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the woman who most famously founded the Special Olympics but also served as cheerleader-in-chief for the Kennedy political dynasty.
Shriver, the fifth of nine children born to Joseph Kennedy Sr. and his wife, Rose, never stopped working for the causes she believed in. The book’s full title serves as a pointed reminder that had she been a man, Shriver would have been fully encouraged to ascend to the political heights achieved by her male family members, such as her brother, John F. Kennedy.
The Kennedys have fiercely controlled their family’s reputation, making honest biographies a challenge. But following Shriver’s death at 88 in 2009, members of the Shriver family provided McNamara with access to 33 boxes of private papers that open a window into a remarkable life, warts and all. Most amusing among the papers are Shriver’s notes to herself, including tips on how to make small talk at the many parties she attended.
But access isn’t everything, and McNamara wields a deft touch as she recounts Shriver’s role in the Special Olympics and extending rights for the developmentally disabled, which was surely influenced by the tragic story of her older sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual disabilities and sent out of public view after a botched lobotomy. Audaciously titled or not, Eunice leaves no doubt that its subject truly changed the world.