Founder of Special Olympics dies

Updated: August 11, 2009, 12:18 PM ET news services

HYANNIS, Mass. -- President John F. Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a champion for the rights of the mentally disabled and founder of the Special Olympics, has died. She was 88.

[+] EnlargeEunice Kennedy
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesEunice Kennedy Shriver was all smiles prior to the Special Olympics 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai, where a record 7,300 athletes from 164 countries and regions competed.

Shriver had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and died at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis on Tuesday morning, her family said in a statement. The hospital is near the Kennedy family compound, where her sole surviving brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, has been battling brain cancer.

Shriver was credited with transforming America's view of the mentally disabled from institutionalized patients to friends, neighbors and athletes. Her efforts were inspired by the struggles of her mentally disabled sister, Rosemary.

Shriver also was the sister of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the wife of 1972 vice presidential candidate and former Peace Corps director R. Sargent Shriver, and the mother-in-law of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

President Barack Obama, in a statement released Tuesday, paid tribute to Shriver for founding the Special Olympics, which became the world's largest athletic competition for mentally disabled children and adults.

Shriver's creation "greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians" around the world, Obama said, adding Shriver "taught our nation -- and our world -- that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.