Women of the Week

A tribute to Eunice Shriver and Nancy Brinker
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Women of the Week

Eunice Shriver and Nancy Brinker, each in her own way, helped millions

-Myrna Blyth

Eunice ShriverThis is the week to praise two remarkable women. Eunice Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Ted and Robert Kennedy, died on Tuesday. Mrs. Shriver spent fifty years working to help mentally disabled people live productive lives.

On Wednesday Nancy Brinker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House. Mrs. Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, (www.komen.org) a foundation that has raised more than a billion dollars to help find a cure for breast cancer.

Nancy Brinker  and Barack ObamaBoth women were pioneers. Both were moved to action because of needs within their own families. When Eunice Shriver started her work, it was common for mentally disabled people to be placed in institutions that did little more than warehouse them. At that time having a family member with such a disability was considered shameful. Mrs. Shriver’s oldest sister, Rosemary, was developmentally disabled, a fact that the prominent, achievement-oriented Kennedy family, at first, did not publicly acknowledge. But in 1962 while her brother was President, Mrs. Shriver wrote an article about their sister and her belief that developmentally disabled people could often live productive and useful lives.

Mrs. Brinker’s concern for her sister also led to her pioneering efforts. In 1980 her sister, Susan G. Komen, 36, died of breast cancer. Mrs. Brinker promised her sister to help prevent other women from suffering her fate. At that time breast cancer was rarely acknowledged or discussed. Women were ashamed of having the disease and there were common misunderstandings such as a belief that breast cancer was contagious. In fact, the first fundraising event that Mrs. Brinker held for the foundation which she began in her kitchen with $200, a battered typewriter and a few friends, was advertised as a “women’s cancer” function because the word “breast” was not considered appropriate to appear in a newspaper.

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