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Former Vice-Presidential Nominee Sargent Shriver Dies

Sargent Shriver

Dec. 5, 2004: Eunice and Sergeant Shriver arrive at the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. (Reuters)

Former vice-presidential nominee R. Sargent Shriver, who served as the first director of the Peace Corps in the administration of his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, and later fought the War on Poverty, has died. He was 95. 

Shriver, who announced in 2003 that he had Alzheimer's disease, died Tuesday after being hospitalized for several days.

Shriver's biggest claim to fame was his family connections -- in 1953 he married Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy, who died in August 2009 at age 88. He was also the father of former NBC reporter Maria Shriver, who is married to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

But Shriver built a legacy through his public service.

Shriver served as the first Peace Corps director in the administration of his brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy. He also led President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" and was Democrat George McGovern's running mate in 1972. 

"He was a man of giant love, energy, enthusiasm, and commitment," the Shriver family said in a statement, noting that he was surrounded by his five children, five children in-law and his 19 grandchildren.

"He lived to make the world a more joyful, faithful, and compassionate place," the family said. "He centered everything on his faith and his family. He worked on stages both large and small but in the end, he will be best known for his love of others."

President Obama said he was "deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Sargent Shriver, one of the brightest lights of the greatest generation."

"His loss will be felt in all of the communities around the world that have been touched by Peace Corps volunteers over the past half century and all of the lives that have been made better by his efforts to address inequality and injustices at home," he said.

Former President George H.W. Bush said he and his wife, Barbara are "saddened" about Shriver's death.

"He was a truly good man, and he served his country with such honor," he said in a statement. "His name will always be associated with the Peace Corps and, with his beloved Eunice, for his work with the Special Olympics."

The handsome Shriver is often known first as an in-law. But his achievements are historic in their own right and changed millions of lives: the Peace Corps' first director and the leader of President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," out of which came such programs as Head Start and Legal Services. 

Within the family, he was sometimes relied upon for the hardest tasks. When Jacqueline Kennedy needed the funeral arranged for her assassinated husband, she asked Shriver. 

Shriver had fought for integration in Chicago and helped persuade Kennedy to make a crucial decision in the 1960 campaign despite other staffers' fears of a white backlash: When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Georgia that fall, Kennedy phoned King's wife and offered support. His gesture was deeply appreciated by King's family and brought the candidate crucial support. 

Soon after taking office, President Kennedy named Shriver to fulfill a campaign promise to start the Peace Corps. Although it was belittled by some as a "kiddie corps," Shriver quickly built the agency into an international institution. 

"The Peace Corps has not only lost its founder but our country has lost one of its most inspiring leaders of the 20th century," said Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association. "Long before the term was invented, Sargent Shriver was a social entrepreneur, creating innovative institutions and programs that made a real difference in the lives of tens of millions at home and abroad. 

"Although it may be small consolation to the Shriver family in their hour of loss, Sargent Shriver's timeless legacy will live on in all those he inspired to work assiduously towards a more peaceful and prosperous world," he added.

Shriver was born Nov. 9, 1915 in Westminster, Maryland. He attended Yale University, where he edited the Yale Daily News. Although he was originally opposed to U.S. involvement in World II, he served five years in the U.S. Navy during the war.

His first involvement with the Kennedy family came after the war, when he was hired by the patriarch Joseph Kennedy to run the Merchandise Mart, part of the family business empire in Chicago.

In 1953, he married Eunice Kennedy. Shortly thereafter, he began his lifetime commitment to public service.

In addition to his roles in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he served as the ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970.

In the summer of 1972, after Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern's pick for vice president -- Tom Eagleton - admitted to having had electroshock therapy to treat depression and stepped down, Shriver stepped in as the new vice presidential nominee. The ticket was soundly defeated by the incumbent, Republican Richard Nixon.

He went on to become the President of the Special Olympics in 1984...ultimately expanding the program to young people around the world.

In 1994, Shriver received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

Fox News' Doug McKelway and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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