HYANNIS, Mass.— Special Olympians, family and friends gathered Friday for a private funeral Mass to honor the life of presidential sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics who is widely credited with helping to change the world's perception of the mentally disabled, died Tuesday at age 88. Her only living brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer, did not attend his sister's funeral.
"She was chosen to have a life to serve others, the weakest of the weak, the castaways, the throwaways of society, at the time they would say the mentally retarded, and I am one of those people," Loretta Claiborne, a former Special Olympics athlete and longtime friend, said in her eulogy.
Shriver's daughter, Maria Shriver, and her son-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other family members carried the casket into Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church after a funeral procession moved slowly past thousands of people who lined the streets outside. Shriver and Schwarzenegger were married in the same church 23 years earlier.
The crowds of people outside, including residents, tourists and Special Olympians, were largely silent for the procession amid the ringing of the church bell and the playing of a lone bagpipe. The procession was led by law enforcement and athletes, including Margarite Heffernan, of Harwich, a Special Olympian in 1968, and her son Sean, from Orleans, who is now an athlete. The two carried the Special Olympic torch ahead of the casket.
"If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be here today," said Michael Bogdan, 28, a Special Olympian who competed in swimming and track and watched the procession.
The funeral Mass was shown live on television but only those who were invited were allowed inside the church. Among the guests were Vice President Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Jon Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.