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Oral History

Robert Shriver III and Maria Shriver Oral History, Niece and Nephew (also Godson) of Edward Kennedy

Copyright 2016 the Miller Center Foundation and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Heininger

This is an interview with Bobby Shriver on January 29, 2010, in Santa Monica. We’re expecting Maria Shriver. Let’s start with this: Why did you go into politics?

R. Shriver

I got mad.

Heininger

At?

R. Shriver

The city, for doing something really stupid.

Heininger

For hedges?

R. Shriver

Well, for threatening people. It wasn’t so much for the hedges, but for threatening homeowners with $25,000-a-day fines in draconian remedies, for trees, hedges. I thought it was ridiculous when I first saw it, but then I went to the meeting. 

A bunch of people were there, and then we all went to a little local deli after the meeting. You could see it in their faces that people were frightened, particularly the women, because if their hedges were going to come down in their front yards, they felt their children would be endangered. They were playing in their front yards—Many people didn’t have rear yards, so they were using their front yards, and they had hedges up so the children couldn’t be seen from the street. They were going to have to cut these things down. Their children would be seen from the street, so therefore their children wouldn’t be allowed to go out there alone, and so on.

These women were sitting in a deli in Santa Monica, and we had a little meeting. There must have been 80 people there who had come from City Hall to the deli. It was really a “grassroots America” kind of moment. These people were raising their hands, saying, “This is what I think should be done,” and “This is what I think should be done.” 

This one woman was telling her story and all of a sudden she started to cry, in fear that her front yard was going to go away and her kids weren’t going to be able to play. I was sitting there looking at that, thinking, This woman is crying in fear, in my neighborhood. That’s not possible. I can’t have that; it’s outrageous! If the city had handled it differently, I wouldn’t have run, because if they had led this change in an orderly, grown-up way, people would have accommodated them and there would have been some negotiation. But they just up and threatened people and put them into a state of fear, and then to refused to change that, even though many of the city council members realized they had made a mistake.

This group continued to meet, and I was appointed the negotiator, along with a woman lawyer who is great, Kelly Brooks. We would negotiate with them about the changes. They refused to accept the grandfathering concept, which is that people who had 40-foot hedges for 40 years would be allowed to keep them. They wouldn’t accept that. Meanwhile, our group had met 40 times by then. One day, I said to this guy we were negotiating with, “Listen, if you don’t accept this grandfathering thing, I’m going to have to run myself.” 

The guy looked at me and he said, “Bobby, come on. Look at yourself. You’re not going to run for the city council in Santa Monica.” And I thought, Ha-ha! Yes, I am. Then I got in the car with Kelly and I said, “Did that guy just say to me what I thought he said to me?” She said, “Yes. I’m surprised you didn’t punch him.” I realized he had insulted me. He had all but said, “You are so arrogant that you won’t do it.” [laughing] I immediately got the papers to run—immediately. I was so mad.

Heininger

Politics is relatively recent for you. This isn’t what your career has been.

R. Shriver

No, nor would it ever have been. My career was doing the social service things that I did. I made the records for the Special Olympics, the Christmas projects, and then I did the AIDS in Africa stuff, started the ONE Campaign and Product (Red) and so forth. That’s what my parents did. My parents didn’t run for any offices. They started pro-social ventures. That’s what I grew up watching people do, and feel I know how to do.

The Robert Kennedy family, and obviously Senator Edward Kennedy’s family, were running for office. In our house, the [Robert Sargent and Eunice Kennedy] Shriver house, no one ran for office, but people started a lot of programs. We grew up differently, in that sense, from our cousins, who were constantly seeing elective political leaders and consultants, speechmakers and people like that in the house. We never saw any of those folks. It’s very different. Shrivers are—We had a totally different experience as children, and as young adults, from what our Kennedy cousins did.

Heininger

How so?

R. Shriver

Nobody ran for office. That energy of running for office, the street-fighting, partisan, competitive quality that existed in the other households didn’t exist in ours. Our house was plenty competitive, but the competition and the questions were different: Did the program work? When we were kids in Maryland, the special people would come out to the house, and there were high school students who were the volunteer counselors and so forth. Was that working? Did we need to get a new camp director? Where should we have more tennis or more swimming? Are the races being monitored correctly? We need some stopwatches; these stopwatches we have are no good and we can’t time the races properly. “What the hell? Who’s in charge of that?” my mother would say.

Heininger

Do you think you have had an easier time of it because your last name was Shriver rather than Kennedy? 

R. Shriver

It’s less the name than that tone I just described. In other words, the building of ideas and the programs, and the people to work in them, is a more generative and creative process than asking, How am I going to beat that guy in the next race? Now that I’m in elective politics, I think about that: How am I going to make sure I have more votes this time than I did last time? How am I going to take this issue? I like it now, but I have to be careful that I don’t do this or piss off that person. I’m thinking more like that than, How am I going to get people with intellectual disabilities to run around a track? or Is it a good thing that they swim in this pool? or They are so fast in the pool, it’s kind of amazing. That’s the way I grew up. That’s different; it’s calmer.

It’s competitive, though, to be entrepreneurial and to create these programs out of nothing, which is what both my parents did: my mom in the Special Olympics and my dad in the Peace Corps, the Job Corps, the Legal Services Corporation. My dad, as a social entrepreneur—There will never be another character like that, ever. He’s Bill Gates times ten to me. Who has started that many companies that were that successful in the private sector? Nobody. Maybe Kleiner Perkins, the big venture capital firm, has financed them, but if you line up the things my dad was one of the founders of—Wow!

Heininger

You also had two parents who were around and really committed to you kids.

R. Shriver

They weren’t around, just for the record.

Heininger

They weren’t?

R. Shriver

No, ma’am. They were not around. They got up and went to the office in the morning, both of them. We had nannies, but they weren’t around. In the summer my mom ran the camp there when we were kids, but in Chicago, where Maria and I were kids, my mom went to the office every day.

Heininger

How did they have such a big impact on you all if they weren’t around?

R. Shriver

They’re your parents. Just like you were talking about your kids, your kids are your kids and your kids know what their parents are like, whether they’re around or not. They know what they’re like. Look at [Barack] Obama’s great book Dreams of My Father. He met his father for four days. Yet his father had a huge impact on his life, with all the lore about him and his extended family and his story. It’s the story of your parents that has the impact on you as a kid, I think. As you get older, you begin to see that certain elements of the story are not true, and you then get a more realistic view of who your parents are.

It’s a natural process. It’s about them being around. It was about the intensity of their work, and the numbers of people. I remember when the Peace Corps was happening and we were only little kids, seven, eight years old. I do not remember a day when there weren’t 20 people in the house on the weekend, not one day. They would all arrive at 9:00 in the morning, and there would be meetings going on all weekend. There would be a break and a little football game or a little swimming or something, but they were working every weekend, every single one.

Heininger

How much time did you spend with your cousins?

R. Shriver

A lot. I spent a lot of time with Bobby Kennedy [Jr.], who was three months older than me, when I was a kid, because they lived in McLean, right around the corner. I spent a lot of time with the Robert Kennedy cousins, not with the [Peter and Patricia Kennedy] Lawfords or the others; they all lived in New York. I saw them in the summer, but throughout the year, it really was the Robert Kennedys, Bobby in particular, and David [Kennedy].

Heininger

What was your relationship with Teddy?

R. Shriver

Big Teddy?

Heininger

Big Teddy.

R. Shriver

When we were kids?

Heininger

Yes.

R. Shriver

Teddy was my godfather, so I always felt a little special thing with him, but when we were kids, he and Uncle Bobby—I don’t remember Uncle Jack [Kennedy] at all, but he and Uncle Bobby were fierce presences. [laughing]

Heininger

Is that an emphasis on the fierce part?

R. Shriver

I wouldn’t say that we had—As we’re sitting here in 2010, the word “relationship” means something different than what it meant in 1963, ’64, ’65. They were tough. At the Cape in the summer, when they arrived and organized us all, Uncle Bobby would get—but I’m sure Uncle Teddy conspired in it—boxing instructors. We had to go to boxing class in the summer. We had a swimming instructor, a boxing instructor, a sailing instructor, a tennis instructor, and another guy who marched us around to all these lessons.

Heininger

This is your summer fun. [laughing]

R. Shriver

Yes, and then we got into the ring and the guy would whack you in the head with a glove, when you were nine years old, and you’d go down. We had a very amazing upbringing. 

And with the football, there was a big rose bush on the field, in front of my grandmother’s house, a bush, a New England thing, not just flowers but a thick bush, with a bunch of thorns in it. When Uncle Bobby would get mad at you, he would say, “Okay, you, five steps and cut to the left,” and you’d be headed toward the rose bush. He would throw you the ball, and you either were going to catch it and fall into the rose bush, or not. If you didn’t catch it, and you were unwilling to go into the rose bush, everybody saw that, and he would frown at you—Oh, my God!—my cousin David would always go right into the rose bush, because he was so fierce and brave.

Teddy was tough, and they were involved in tough stuff. When I came into consciousness of them, when I was eight or nine years old, Uncle Jack had been murdered and they were trying to—Both of them were in the Senate; both of them were working aggressively on policy. The Vietnam thing was working its way up. The whole ’60s was—I know it would be interesting if you interviewed my brothers, Mark [Shriver] and Anthony [Shriver], who were born in the mid-’60s but became ten years old in the mid-’70s, where I became ten years old in the mid-’60s. Their experience of life is so different from mine, and I think Maria’s. You’ll see when she gets here. It was a different era.

M. Shriver

[arriving] I’m sorry; I was so lost. 

R. Shriver

On Broadway and 7th?

M. Shriver

Yes. I didn’t have the address. I apologize.

R. Shriver

Sit down there.

M. Shriver

[to Heininger] Hi, I’m Maria. I apologize.

Heininger

This is a resumption of the interview with Bobby Shriver. Maria Shriver has now joined us, on January 29, 2010, in Santa Monica. One of the questions that I asked Bobby, which I’ll ask you too, is whether you think you and your siblings have had an easier time of it because your last name was Shriver, and not Kennedy, like some of your cousins?

M. Shriver

No. I don’t think it’s about an “easier time.” Everybody’s situation is completely different and completely unique, and depends on, in large part, in what era they grew up, who was around. But I don’t think—no.

Heininger

Having Kennedy as a last name wasn’t a burden for anybody?

M. Shriver

I don’t know; you’d have to ask them. Sure, there was that burden. There are good things that come with it and difficult things that come with it, just like everybody’s name. People have all kinds of issues with their name, their history. It’s their own individual experience that matters.

Heininger

Why don’t you both tell me what your relationship was with Teddy?

M. Shriver

Well, he was my uncle. He was a big part of my life in many ways. He was an uncle who was always around, who was involved, who cared a lot about the larger family and image. He felt a responsibility, you could tell, to keep it together, to show up, to be present, to be involved. I worked for him in the 1980 campaign. He came to my graduations. He showed up in my life all the way through, and would check in on me. He was a great source of humor, of family stories, family lore, family trips and outings, and really worked hard at keeping the family together, making sure the family knew the stories, making sure the family felt like a family, always looking for opportunities to connect the family.

He was very serious about his role as a brother to my mother. As they got older, they became closer and closer. Certainly in the last couple of years of Mummy’s declining health, he was on it in every way, very attentive to her at all the emergency room things, very involved in her care, checking with the doctors. He would come over and visit her when she couldn’t move around, would call her all the time, and worked very hard on the naming of the building at NIH [National Institutes of Health]. He really tried to make her happy, and took his role as a brother and as a son and an uncle really seriously. It was an important role to him, as was being a great-uncle. He was very involved, always called on our kids’ birthdays, always sent books, always was very attentive. For me, he was a huge figure, a fun figure, a dependable figure, and that was my relationship with him.

Heininger

I’m very sorry about your mom. You both obviously had a tough summer, a very tough summer. We figured that when he didn’t make it to your mother’s funeral, things were going downhill for him too. 

How did he help the cousins who were particularly troubled?

M. Shriver

What is this for? This is his—

R. Shriver

This is the oral history at the University of Virginia.

Heininger

This is a resumption of the interview with Maria and Bobby Shriver. 

The one thing I’ve never understood is how he managed to do all the roles that he did: how he could be a Senator, a father to his own kids, a husband, a sailor, and how he could deal with this huge raft of cousins. I don’t get it.

R. Shriver

Well, the real truth on that one is that he didn’t do that. He grew into that role later in his life, but when he was a younger guy, he wasn’t doing all that stuff. When Uncle Bobby was alive, he probably had more of the management of the other cousins, and in that time that Bobby was alive, only John [Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr.] and Caroline [Kennedy] didn’t have a father; everybody else had a father. A lot of the roles that Teddy acquired later in his life he didn’t have when he was young, which is true of anybody. By the time he acquired them all, he was 55 or 60 years old and really on top of his game, so he was able to manage them then. One of the great things in his book is that some of the roles he acquired, he screwed up. It wasn’t as though he did them all flawlessly when he was younger, any more than any of us did, or anybody does. 

His humanity, if you will, lies in all the failures that he made, that he stood up from. It’s that he didn’t allow those failures to destroy his capacity to do it later in his life. Everybody I’ve talked to who has read the book cites that idea, which is the theme of his whole life: standing up from failures. He was never a wunderkind, Teddy. He never was the smartest kid in the class; he wasn’t the fastest kid in the class; and he had siblings who were smarter, faster, and taller than he was, yet he was able to continue to plug along, plug along, plug along, even when he got smacked down. 

I ran into a guy at lunch yesterday, waiting for a lunch table, who somehow listed very quickly all the things that had happened to Teddy. When he listed them so quickly, I thought, Oh, my God. His kid had cancer. He broke his back. These are not things like Chappaquiddick. Wow—just wow! His father died, his sister died, his brother died in the war, his older brother, his sister, all these people. The guy said to me, “Imagine if all four of your siblings died.”

M. Shriver

I know.

R. Shriver

All of a sudden I thought, Whoa!

M. Shriver

Yes.

R. Shriver

Think of that. In our family, none of us has died. But Teddy had all of his siblings die, other than Jean [Kennedy Smith]. Wow. The standing up is the thing for me, rather than managing all the roles, because he was a well-organized guy when he was older.

Heininger

He was your godfather. Was he godfather to any of the other cousins?

R. Shriver

That’s a good question. I don’t know. He must have been, but I don’t know.

Heininger

Was he closer to any of the cousins, some more than others?

R. Shriver

You’re talking about later in his life now?

Heininger

Throughout his life. There are a lot of cousins.

R. Shriver

I know when I was younger he was quite close to Joe Kennedy, my cousin Joe, because they sailed together and they were both interested in Massachusetts politics. Eventually Joe ran there, of course.

Heininger

Right.

R. Shriver

Joe was also a very good sailor, a competitive sailor, in the same class of boat that Teddy would race. Have you interviewed Joe?

Heininger

Not yet.

R. Shriver

That would be a good question for him, when he was younger. Teddy, when he got a little older, became quite close to Caroline and to you a little bit, right?

M. Shriver

Yes.

R. Shriver

Yes. Maybe he went off Joe a little bit and more into Caroline.

M. Shriver

More into the girls.

R. Shriver

He got a little older and he probably felt, You know what? These girls are a lot nicer than the boys. [laughing]

M. Shriver

With the girls, it wasn’t a competitive thing. The girls idolized him more, found him fun, found him enjoyable. He was a big figure in the girls’ kids’ lives. He was very good with his mother and he was good with his sisters. He was good with women.

R. Shriver

Yes.

M. Shriver

He was good with women and he had qualities that women enjoyed. He came in and he always made you laugh. He tried to take care of things for you. He tried to organize things for you. He did things that women appreciated. Although I didn’t have it, I’m sure with many of the boys who might have been interested in politics, it was probably competitive.

R. Shriver

That reminds me. Teddy had a fundraiser for me when I ran, at his house in Washington. You weren’t there, but it was funny. Bono [Paul Hewson] came, and it was a nice event. Teddy was smiling and greeting everybody. After everybody had left, we went into the kitchen for the postmortem. Vicki [Reggie Kennedy] was there and two other people. Teddy closed the door and turned around and looked at me. He said, “Okay, now listen. This was a disaster.” Then he started in: “You said this, this was wrong. You were very glib, but you didn’t cut to the thing right away. You should have done this. I don’t know what you meant when you said that. Here’s the thing you have to do.”

M. Shriver

Yes.

R. Shriver

All of which, I have to say, was correct. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a pro at running an event, and at what you need to say in your speech. I was a little, I have to say, intimidated. There he was, then he introduced Bono, then Bono introduced me. I stood up there and thought, Wow! Right? I was kind of funny, but I didn’t—All of his criticism was correct, and that’s the competition. He made his point, “This is a competitive business. Don’t be sitting up there being funny. Shut up and cut to the point.”

M. Shriver

I didn’t have that with him. He would always call me complimenting me on my television stuff or saying, “I saw this.” I wasn’t in the same “business,” and it’s very different for people who were in the same business.

R. Shriver

Right, it’s a different thing.

M. Shriver

I was in a completely different business, which he understood, but it wasn’t—

Heininger

It wasn’t his.

M. Shriver

It wasn’t his. That made my relationship different.

Heininger

Did he ever call and criticize something that you’d done in the media?

M. Shriver

No. He always just complimented it. I actually kept his last message to me, which was in May, on the Alzheimer’s show I did. I kept it. I just listened to it the other day, because I was transferring my phone messages. “My God, you just did the best job. I was watching you on MSNBC [Microsoft National Broadcasting Company] and you did such a great—You are just so amazing and we are watching it here.”

R. Shriver

[laughing] I never got that call, nor did any of the boys.

Heininger

Versus, This is what you said; this is what you didn’t say.

M. Shriver

It was on everything, my books. He and Mummy were similar like that.

R. Shriver

You think? You don’t think Mummy was a little—Again, maybe it’s because I’m a boy. I would go to the events, get in the car, and Mummy would say, “That was good. You were good, but—”

M. Shriver

Oh, yes, that’s what I mean. There was constructive criticism, yes.

R. Shriver

Yes. Mummy could be—

M. Shriver

But remarking on what you did, aware of what you did—

R. Shriver

Oh, yes.

M. Shriver

Versus now. I’ll do something and nobody calls, but they always called.

R. Shriver

Right, yes, yes.

M. Shriver

They would say things like “That was really good,” or “I’m going to do this,” or “You should think about that,” yes, but never just “That was fantastic.” Teddy’s last thing to me was like “That was just fantastic, perfect.” I dealt with him a lot in the last two years of Mummy’s life, even when he was originally sick, and he was always saying things like “You’re doing a great job,” just so supportive. I would say, “My daughter is coming on a class trip to Washington.” He’d say, “I’ll organize it. Let me go out there with my dog; let me welcome the class.” He was incredible that way. All those great-nieces and -nephews felt they had a relationship with him, which was incredible.

R. Shriver

Yes, he did an incredible job. I’ll tell you a good story on that.

M. Shriver

He was very attentive.

R. Shriver

When I got married to my current wife—[laughing] I just say that to irritate Maria.

M. Shriver

The only other person I’ve ever heard say that was Ted Turner.

R. Shriver

Brandon Stoddard actually said it one time, when he was trying to irritate Mary Anne Dolan. He said, “Do you know my current wife, Mary Anne?” She wanted to hit him in the mouth. It was kind of funny. Maybe not that funny 50 years from now, but anyway, it was—

M. Shriver

Your daughter will hear that.

R. Shriver

Yes, I know, and she’ll be 45, saying, “God, Dad was really a pest.”

M. Shriver

So start again.

R. Shriver

Okay, I’ll start again.

M. Shriver

“I married my only wife.”

R. Shriver

I married my only wife and she had a daughter from a prior marriage, Natasha, who was five or six. We got married in May, and married quite quickly, so everybody knew we were married, but not everybody, including Teddy, had been able to come. But that Christmas Teddy had done a book on his dogs, and he sent them around to everybody in the family, and sent one to Natasha, signed, “To Natasha, I enjoyed seeing you at the Cape this summer. Merry Christmas. Love, Uncle Teddy.” There was this level of “You’re in.”

Heininger

You’re a member.

R. Shriver

You’re a member of the family.

Heininger

Right.

R. Shriver

Bingo! Here’s your book.

Heininger

You’re family.

R. Shriver

Some people could take the view, No, you’re not really family, because you’re not really a blood member of the family. Teddy never had that view. Teddy had the view, You’re in the family, bingo.

Heininger

You raise an interesting point. There is both a gender point, and [to M. Shriver] you were not in the same field that he was in. You [to R. Shriver] were in the same field, in terms of politics.

R. Shriver

Later in my life I was.

Heininger

I wonder how he dealt with Kathleen [Townsend] when she was running?

R. Shriver

Good question.

M. Shriver

You should probably ask her.

Heininger

That would be an interesting question. How much of it is gender? How much of it is—I suspect it’s both, but it would be interesting to see what she has to say.

R. Shriver

I also always thought that when Teddy would yell at me, he was channeling Grandpa [Joseph Kennedy], from the stories that I heard and from when I would watch, when we were younger, my parents’ reaction to Grandpa, after he had had his stroke, and their, I would say, fear of him. “Oh, boy, Dad is—We have to report to Dad.” Grandpa was pretty tough on the business: “We’re in the politics business. We’re not here to lose, we’re here to win. Pay attention!”

Heininger

Do you have a sense as to which of your grandparents influenced him the most?

M. Shriver

Both. He talked a lot about both and was very emotional about both. He certainly was the youngest, and the youngest son to Grandma [Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy], and he took that role very seriously. He was also a typical baby boy with his mother.

R. Shriver

By “youngest” you mean “youngest boy.”

M. Shriver

Yes. He was the baby, her youngest boy, baby boy, whatever. But he was very into pleasing her, into taking care of her, into walking with her, making her laugh, making her life complete. That was a big thing for him. Whenever he spoke about her in family gatherings—and his father—he was very emotional about his overall family. 

It wasn’t a family big on outward grieving or allowing you to grieve. I don’t think any of those kids ever grieved properly, grieved openly, or were allowed to grieve. They all walked around with a lot of grief, and a lot of sadness, which would pop out in different ways, as emotion or rage, because they kept getting hammered, and they never grieved that.

Heininger

Did you see that in your mother?

M. Shriver

Oh, for sure, yes. And they didn’t talk about it. It’s a different generation, you know? They reacted like, Okay, that just happened. Let’s go sailing. Let’s go play football.

Heininger

You just move on.

M. Shriver

Growing up in that, I found it confusing, but they all just moved on. But obviously, you can never move on from that if you don’t talk about it; you just carry it, so that came out in people’s emotions. But he was very proud of both of his parents, and they were both very different people, meaning in how they expressed their emotions. Obviously, he had a longer period with his mother.

Heininger

Yes, that’s true.

M. Shriver

He was very funny, Teddy. Very funny. With Grandma, he loved the Irish songs, loved all the Irish singing, the piano. He got that from his mother and Honey Fitz [John F. Fitzgerald]. He liked her history in Boston, her father’s history, and the whole Fitzgerald thing. He was very good about always including both, and he got that from her.

R. Shriver

He told me he thought that when he first ran, he met more people who had been done favors by his grandfather. He probably said that in the oral history you have, but the “Fitzgerald” made me think of it, the Fitzgerald thing in Boston politics. People seem to always forget that. They think, Oh, the Kennedys kind of exploded. Their grandpa had the money and they all ran and were all so good-looking.

M. Shriver

That came from the Fitzgerald name.

R. Shriver

Fitzgerald had been mayor of Boston, and he had gotten a lot—In those days, you could give your friends jobs. He got people jobs and into school and so on, so they really ran on the Fitzgerald record.

Heininger

In the early years, when Jack and Teddy were running—

R. Shriver

They were Fitzgeralds, exactly.

Heininger

That was the legacy.

R. Shriver

And those were the friends who were out there. The word “legacy” now, to me, is sort of a pop idea. They ran on the Fitzgerald patronage.

Heininger

That’s a good point, yes.

R. Shriver

It’s a big difference. People had jobs, had been to school, had retirements. That all came from the Fitzgeralds. 

Heininger

What kind of relationship did you two have with your grandparents?

R. Shriver

I only remember Grandpa, really, when he had had his stroke. In Grandma’s case, we would go on the walks. I would try to speak a little French to her, because I learned French when we lived in Paris. She loved speaking French. I would say our relationship was modest, in any sort of deep way, but we did our duty, or certainly I felt like I did my duty as a grandchild. I would go out and walk with her. She was a character.

This has nothing to do with Teddy, but it’s a great Grandma story. I was dating some young lady at some point in my life, and I was walking with Grandma one day. She had met the girl. She said to me, “How are you doing with that girl?” And I told her it was great, that we’d been going out for a while and we had “had a few kisses.” My mom used to have this phrase, “Have you had any kisses?” I told her we’d had a few kisses. My grandmother looked at me and said, “You’ve kissed her?” And I said yes. I was about 20; I’d kissed more than one girl. Grandma said to me, “You know, your grandfather was the only man I’ve ever kissed.” Talk about a generational thing!

Heininger

Talk about a generational shift.

R. Shriver

I can remember walking home from that walk, leading her back to the house, thinking to myself—I was 20—Wow! Here’s a person who will go to her grave

M. Shriver

Yes, and she did.

R. Shriver

—having kissed one man. Think of the culture behind that, the worldview, the religion, all of what that meant, and she was completely unbothered by it. It wasn’t a sadness. You just made a face, as if thinking, Oh, my God, imagine if that were me!

Heininger

But that’s generational; for that generation, that was the way it was supposed to be.

R. Shriver

Entirely.

Heininger

Frankly, you were a “fallen woman” if you’d kissed more than one man at that time. Really.

R. Shriver

Oh, my God!

Heininger

With which of his siblings was Teddy the closest?

M. Shriver

Oh, Jean, but he was very close to Mummy the last ten years or so. They kind of paired off. It was Mummy and Jack, Pat [Kennedy Lawford] and Bobby, Teddy and Jean, because they were a younger age. But they became very close over the last, maybe 20 years or so. She came to depend heavily on him in the last 15 or 20 years. They both were political animals; they both really enjoyed the Hill and the politics of the Hill. She and he were more connected on that than any two people in the family.

Heininger

Of all the siblings, she was really the most political.

M. Shriver

She was the most political. They shared relationships with a lot of Senators and Congressmen, and she was very active and engaged in all of that, constantly calling there and very involved in that, much more so than anybody else.

R. Shriver

And Teddy succeeded, with her, in passing a lot of legislation. They were successfully getting real bills passed, so they were not playing around. She did that more than any of the others, certainly the women, did.

M. Shriver

Or the men, I think. They had the longest-running political relationship, because they were there together the longest.

R. Shriver

Exactly.

M. Shriver

She worked the Hill right alongside him.

R. Shriver

That’s an interesting point, actually, that they had the longest-running political relationship, even more than he had with Jack or with Bobby, because of the length.

Heininger

It was much longer.

R. Shriver

I hadn’t thought of it. Of course, I understand that chronologically, but I hadn’t really thought of it until Maria just said that, that they had, actually, as political actors—

M. Shriver

Partners.

R. Shriver

Done more legislation together. It’s an interesting point.

Heininger

We’ve heard from some of his staff, too, how close they were to your mother.

M. Shriver

Yes, because she constantly called.

R. Shriver

You’ve interviewed Carey Parker, I’m sure, and Dr. [Lawrence] Horowitz.

Heininger

Connie Garner as well.

M. Shriver

Yes. She used his staff as her own, and he was very supportive of that.

Heininger

And generous.

M. Shriver

He was very generous with that. He treated her—Maybe he made jokes about it, but she came up there, used them, called them; she was all over them.

R. Shriver

And they accomplished stuff. They got the legislation, the NICHD [Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development]—

M. Shriver

She was all over them, all the time.

Heininger

But what about the issues on which they didn’t agree? What you’ve mentioned are issues on which they agreed. What about things like abortion, where they didn’t agree?

M. Shriver

They both respected—

R. Shriver

No doubt she lobbied him. 

Heininger

Yes, we’ve heard that she did lobby him. [laughing]

R. Shriver

I’m sure there was a certain amount of lobbying going on.

M. Shriver

Fundamentally, on the act, they probably agreed, and she understood his politics of it, his need to have that. Once again, her position on that, which brought Republican people into her favor, helped him, I’m sure, down the road, with things he wanted to do, because of her relationship with certain Senators who might agree with her on that issue. 

Heininger

That’s a good point.

M. Shriver

They were really good political partners.

Heininger

Because her supporters crossed the aisles.

M. Shriver

Absolutely, and his did, too, but I like to think that she was helpful in that.

Heininger

What was he like as a campaigner?

M. Shriver

Fierce.

Heininger

You campaigned with him.

R. Shriver

And very good. There was nobody—I’ve been in a bunch of campaigns now and Teddy in a room, a live room—Again, it was a different era, but man, it just does not exist any more: people who can walk into a room and [snaps] bingo. He was an electric live performer.

Heininger

Maria, you’re married to a politician. What is it that politicians get from the campaigning?

M. Shriver

Everybody’s different. Teddy got from people. He was on a perpetual campaign, I think, his whole life. He always enjoyed people; he liked to laugh; he was interested in people; he was interested in people’s struggles; he had struggles himself. He was empathetic, and liked to get things done. He really liked people. Somebody said to me yesterday, “People are hard-wired for struggle.” I thought that was interesting.

R. Shriver

What does that mean?

M. Shriver

That people who struggle keep struggling and do well at it.

R. Shriver

They’re good at struggling.

M. Shriver

They’re good at bringing people into their world who understand that, who also struggle, who see themselves in there. I don’t think anybody had any illusion that they were working for a perfect human being, but they admired his struggles, his human frailties, and he saw that in people who came to him for help. He liked the crowd, he liked people, he liked talking about his brothers, he liked talking about his parents, he liked singing, he liked the Irish thing, and he liked getting things done. He liked legislating, he liked power, he liked parties, and he liked all the people who worked for him, the Hill, the boy’s club, the girls—He liked everything about it.

Heininger

Did you like campaigning?

R. Shriver

Did I like campaigning? I liked the part that I would say Teddy really liked, which was the one-on-one thing. I don’t think, for example, Teddy would have loved campaigning in California, because it’s a much more media—You have to do a lot of television. It’s more of an “event” kind of a place, because it’s so huge, whereas in Massachusetts, because it’s smaller, you can do a lot of coffee-type events with 20 to 30 people. You can make your little talk, but then you have questions and you feel the people. As Maria was saying, you can feel the people; it comes to you. After you do ten of those a day for a month, you have a real emotional connection, yourself, to ideas that you’re hearing, to the people’s struggles, whereas if you’re on TV all the time, it’s harder. It’s less fun, and Teddy really—

Heininger

I’m assuming that you can do that in Santa Monica.

R. Shriver

Yes, and Teddy did it—Here’s the thing: Teddy did it in Massachusetts, because of, as we said earlier, the Fitzgerald connection, and then because, by the time he was running, the Kennedy thing was obviously very big. People gave him their stories—They told him stuff and he was sucking that up, not only personally, but in his network; Eddie Martin and all the people who worked for him in Boston generated storytelling. 

If you asked me for one word, it would be “stories.” The Irish love that. They love to get the story. My mother was a great gossip: “Give me the gossip.” It didn’t mean naughty stuff; it really meant, “Tell me the stories. Is there anything funny that happened? Did you see anybody who was interesting? What did they say? Oh, that’s terrible,” or “That’s great,” or “Where are their kids?” In all of Teddy’s stuff with the family and the great-grandchildren and great-nieces that Maria mentioned earlier, that’s all part of the same impulse, to hear the story of people, to participate in their story. That’s fun and that’s what campaigning really is when it’s 19th-century campaigning. Now, in the 21st century, it’s “Let’s make a TV ad. Let’s raise a lot of money.” It’s all that kind of stuff. It’s a different thing.

Heininger

From what you saw when you were campaigning for Ted, is it different here in California from when you watched your husband campaign?

M. Shriver

Oh, well, yes. It depends on who you’re campaigning for. The crowds are completely different, dependent upon who you’re campaigning for. I campaigned for Teddy in his Presidential campaign. Those crowds were completely different. It also depends on the year you’re campaigning.

R. Shriver

Did you ever do Massachusetts, the Senate campaigns?

M. Shriver

Yes, I went up there, but campaigning for Teddy in Massachusetts is very different from campaigning in Iowa or somewhere else for Teddy.

Heininger

Did either of you campaign in ’94, when he was having such a tough race?

M. Shriver

No.

Heininger

That was such a different kind of race for him.

M. Shriver

But he campaigned in all kinds of races, all through his life. He campaigned as a young man who didn’t deserve it; he campaigned from a hospital bed. Each race has its own character, its own issues, its own time, but Teddy was a master at reading the situation, adapting to it, and understanding that. He was a master political figure in every sense of that word. He could read it and would campaign to what was going on.

R. Shriver

You won’t see people like that again. By the time people are listening to this thing, technology will have so overtaken the process that it will be looked upon as quaint: “Wow, you really used to—?” Now kids look at a record player and they say, “You guys really had things that you’d stack up and put on, and you moved the needle?” I was in a place the other day with Natasha and she saw a record player. I was showing her how it worked, and I could see her looking at it, thinking, That’s the strangest thing I have ever seen

Teddy was a 19th-century guy, in a funny way. He grew up in the ethos of the Fitzgeralds and in the ethos of the street. Massachusetts was a smaller place. Every place was. You knew people; everybody knew everybody. Maybe in a digital sense in 50 years, when these interviews are heard, everybody will know everybody digitally. They’ll all have seen everybody on Facebook or some successor to a thing like that, but that pressing the flesh, that touching of the people—“handing”—that’s what Teddy did.

Teddy live—Even in music, there are certain artists who, when they’re live—Bruce Springsteen is the most obvious example—there’s a total blowout kind of energy in the room, and other people who are great on records aren’t great live. They are shy, or can’t project, whatever it is. Teddy was a live politician; he’d enliven the room. It was a great thing. It was entertainment too; it was entertaining to him. He had fun. He would get in the car and say, “Whoa!” and everybody would be laughing, would have a few drinks, and the atmosphere would be This is fun. And in Boston, the Globe reporting on all that was comedic in the Greek sense. It had the feel of Can you believe that? That is so wild! Human beings are crazy and funny and dear and tragic. Why would we stay at home when we can do this? This is fun!

Heininger

Did either of you ever go on any of the history trips with him?

R. Shriver

I did not, no.

M. Shriver

I did, yes.

R. Shriver

Which one did you go on?

M. Shriver

I went in Boston. We went through Paul Revere and Beacon Hill and all that sort of stuff. I didn’t go on the ones that he did on the Civil War and Washington, because they were—

R. Shriver

Mummy went on that one.

M. Shriver

Yes, Mummy went on all of them.

R. Shriver

Yes, she loved that.

M. Shriver

They were more for people who lived in Washington. But he liked all that. He organized train trips—

R. Shriver

And he called up people. He called up Shelby Foote, the guy who wrote the great Civil War book, and said, “Do you mind going on this trip with me?” He had that kind of chutzpah, also.

Heininger

Yes, I know. I’d love to call up Shelby Foote and ask him to take us around a Civil War battlefield.

R. Shriver

Yes, me too. [laughing] But somehow Teddy—Shelby Foote did it, not just because Teddy was a big Senator, but just because he thought, That’s exciting. I’m going to take all these smart kids around in a bus and explain it to them. I think he had a good time doing it. I saw David McCullough, who wrote the [John] Adams book, somewhere, and I asked him about it. He said, “I had a great time. That was so great, and your uncle was so on it. He had read every one of my books in detail.” David was doing the tour, and Teddy would interject, “And tell them the one about—” and “What about that one?” He was right in there with him. Teddy was into that.

M. Shriver

He was a pied piper. He saw himself that way within the family. He loved sitting in the big house, people coming by and laughing, inviting people to come out on the boat, telling stories and being the center of attention. Someone who is the youngest in a family rarely gets the chance to be the center of attention. He would make jokes about how he was at the table that wasn’t even connected to the main table, and he’d never get a chance to speak. He more than made up for that in his adult life, because he ran the Cape, he ran the family, and he was the center—the good and the bad of it—of the family. Teddy would invite you out on his boat and he would talk; he would dominate. He dominated everything. He had the biggest boat; you went down the tender with him; he moved into the big house with Grandma; he was at the head of the table; he told the stories—and the stories were as he told them

R. Shriver

[laughing] That’s exactly right. Boy, you’d better not try to tell a story a different way. “You know, I was there and I didn’t quite see it that way.” “Shut up.”

M. Shriver

He definitely moved up.

R. Shriver

The story was his way; that’s for sure.

M. Shriver

It’s funny, because the youngest rarely—The youngest ones always feel they don’t get a chance to speak up.

R. Shriver

Teddy made up for that later in life. He was shut up his first 30 years, but he was bound and determined. 

M. Shriver

Yes, he definitely made up for it. He grew into the position of patriarch; he grew into the role that he found himself in, and loved it and relished it and owned it and took it seriously in every respect. I don’t think somebody gets replaced like that. People are saying, “Who’s replacing Teddy?” Well, he worked at that his whole life; and he worked hard at feeling that responsibility, wanting the family to stay together; and he knew that that was an important role and people depended on it, liked him doing it. Even if people were complaining about Teddy, he was there and he was present, he was at the head of the table, he was sitting on the veranda, and he was running the show.

Heininger

With only Jean left, what will happen with the family? Will the cousins remain as close? Will the extended family remain as close?

M. Shriver

It will definitely be different. I don’t think anybody really knows, because it’s still so fresh. It’s definitely different. You don’t replace figures like Mummy or Teddy. It’s not as if all of a sudden somebody becomes them. A lot of work went into becoming as intimidating and as big as them. It’s not as if somebody says, “Okay, now I’m going to be that person.” They earned people’s respect; they earned the intimidation; they earned the role. There will be nobody who will walk on the pier like either one of them. There will be nobody who will walk in the room and make people nervous like the two of them. There will be nobody who people look up to like that.

R. Shriver

Your kids, now—You walk into the room and they say, “Can you give me a minute? I’m on Facebook here.” When I walked in a room and my Uncle Bobby or Teddy were there, we saluted, when we were little kids.

M. Shriver

And Mummy.

R. Shriver

And Mummy. We saluted those people, and we never talked back to them until we were 17 or whatever it was. It was crazy.

M. Shriver

I never did.

R. Shriver

Yes, Maria. That’s her story. I remember the first time I actually saw you talk back to Mummy. It was at your house on Evans Road. Mummy was sitting there, smoking a cigar, wearing checked pants and God knows what shirt. After some people had left, she came back in and said, “You know, that guy is way too eccentric,” about somebody who had been at your house, and you said, “Mummy, look at yourself. You are more eccentric than anybody we all know.”

M. Shriver

But that wasn’t speaking back to her.

R. Shriver

Well, she reacted with, “What does that mean? What are you talking about?” puffing the stogie with the checked pants and mismatched socks. Maria was saying, “Come on, Mummy, you are more eccentric than anybody we know.”

M. Shriver

I would say to my kids, “I never spoke to Mummy, my whole life, ever, in a disrespectful tone,” like my kids speak, or try to speak, to me.

R. Shriver

We were discussing that before you got here. It’s a whole new era and kids feel free to sass their parents, without any problem whatsoever. This is normal with them.

M. Shriver

Oh, yes.

R. Shriver

We never sassed Teddy or Mummy or any of them.

Heininger

Let’s flip it and ask, rather than viewing it as disrespect, do we want our children’s opinion? Yes. Did our parents—

R. Shriver

They didn’t want our opinion. 

Heininger

Yes. Did our parents really want our opinion?

R. Shriver

No, they did not, not when we were kids.

Heininger

Not when we were kids, no.

R. Shriver

You know what they wanted us to do? They wanted us to be competitors. They wanted us to have the boxing lessons and this lesson and that lesson, and be the better tennis player than everybody, and so on. They taught us competition. Now, whether people are taught competition is a question. The school races I go to, everybody gets a prize, everybody gets—

Heininger

Everybody on the soccer team gets a trophy.

R. Shriver

Everybody gets a trophy. We didn’t get a trophy. “You didn’t win? No trophy? See ya.” Teddy, when he was younger, was determined to win. The sailing was serious business when they were down on that pier, when we were kids, getting ready to go out and race. People were folding and unfolding the jib; they were watching the line; they were scraping the bottom of the boat. They didn’t like anybody to look at the type of ropes they had. He was there to win the race, and he raced against Joe or Ross Richards or Jack Fallon, these guys who were the great senior captains of that era. There was no funny business; there was no joking; there was no ha-ha going on. You always have a tendency to remember people as they were most recently, but I remember Teddy as a younger guy very vividly, as just a ferocious—and Uncle Bobby the same way—ferocious competitors. I didn’t see Uncle Bobby sail. I only saw him play tennis and play football with us. But Teddy, when he sailed, he was serious.

Heininger

So there was sailing and there was racing.

R. Shriver

Any kind of competition.

M. Shriver

I had an interesting discussion yesterday or the day before with my son about EKS [Eunice Kennedy Shriver] Day as a play day. Can you play without winning? It was very interesting. I said, “No, this is not playing,” and he said, “Yes, but somebody has to—I understand you don’t want winners and losers, but there has to be competition in play.” I said, “Really, or can you just play without competing?” Actually, I’ve never done that.

R. Shriver

No, we were not brought up to do that. If we ever played a game, someone was going to win. Then, the first thing when you got home, you were going to be asked, “Who won?”

M. Shriver

Yes. “Who won?”

R. Shriver

“Who won? Did you win? You didn’t win? Oh, well, what else do you know? Anything? Nothing? Good-bye, shut up.” That’s the way we grew up. That is also an ancient thing and probably no one will have grown up that way by the time they’re listening to this interview. [laughing] It was a different—It was different.

M. Shriver

I said to Christopher [Sargent Shriver Schwarzenegger], “Oh, you always used to get so upset when you lost playing Sorry and Trouble and everything.” He said, “Mom, that’s because you tried to beat me and I was a three-year-old kid. What kind of mom is always trying to beat their three-year-old kid?”

R. Shriver

You should have said, “The one I had.”

M. Shriver

I said that. I said, “I learned that from my mother,” and he said, “Yes, but when I was three, four, five, you were always beating me and then being so happy when you beat me. Is it really that hard to beat a four- or five-year-old?” [laughing]

R. Shriver

That’s the way we grew up. Ladies and gentlemen, 50 years from now, we’re all dead, but we want you to know something: That’s the way we grew up. Any psychotic things that you think about us or have heard about us or see about us, it’s all because of that.

This is one of the many interviews that comprise the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History. For more information about the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History, including links to all interviews, please click here.

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