Sometimes the smallest and simplest memories are the ones we carry most closely.
Hearing news of the death of Sargent Shriver brings to mind a sweet memory of a moment I’ll never forget.
In 1994, I was volunteering for a friend who was running for the Maryland Senate. One day, I received a call from a colleague, similarly helping a friend of hers who was running for the Maryland House of Delegates. She had come to an event for my friend and was asking me to come to one for hers. She had organized a meet-and-greet function for him in the community and wanted to ensure a good turnout. Would I show up to meet her candidate, Mark Shriver (who, eight years later, ran against my friend in the primary for a House of Representatives seat, but that’s another story altogether).
I told my colleague, no, I couldn’t attend, because my husband was out of town and I had no one with whom I could leave my five-year-old son.
She said, “Bring him,” assuring me the event would be very informal. They’d be serving six-foot subs on paper plates in a recreation hall. “Your son would be welcome.”
On our way there, I explained to my first-grader what we’d be doing. He was no stranger to political events, and I had no doubt he’d behave himself. He had, in fact, once been to the home of Ethel Kennedy, so I tried to make the Kennedy-Shriver connection. I might have even told him that Mark Shriver’s father had run for Vice President of the Unites States in 1972; I can’t recall. Still, I was a little nervous about how others would regard a young child being there.
There was indeed a very good turnout. I introduced us to a few people, met the guest of honor and shook the obligatory number of hands, while tending to my son. Then I got us plates of food and the two of us sat down at an empty table for four, trying to stay out of the way of event supporters and VIPs.
Before long, with plenty of seats open at the surrounding tables, an older couple walked over with their plates and asked if they could sit with us.
“Of course, please join us,” I said, only then noticing they were Eunice and Sargent Shriver, who were there to support their son. The room was filled with voters and potential donors and they chose to sit with us.
What I remember most is how gracious they were with my son. They asked him about school, sports and hobbies, so respectfully and with such interest. They took time to listen to him.
So often, at these kinds of events, the person you are facing is looking over your shoulder, surveying the room for someone more important to talk to. But for those 20 minutes or so, my son and I were the only people in the room, as far as the Shrivers were concerned.
They’re both gone now. Eunice died in 2009 and Sargent joined her yesterday. My son remembers them only vaguely these 17 years later, but they made a lifelong impression on me.
Rest in peace, gentle souls. You touched millions of lives here on Earth, but I am grateful for the night you touched mine.