SARGENT SHRIVER has been patiently waiting on the sidelines for so long that his selection by default seems almost anticlimactic. In 1964 Lyndon Johnson was interested in having Shriver as his running mate if the Kennedy family had no objections. Shriver's wife Eunice, the most vigorous of the Kennedy sisters, was quick to set the record straight. "No," she reportedly said, "it's Bob's turn." Kennedy Aide Ken O'Donnell was even blunter. He sent word to Shriver that if any Kennedy clansman was going to run for Vice President, it would be Bobby, not "half a Kennedy." Four years later Hubert Humphrey wanted Shriver to accompany him on the Democratic ticket but turned instead to Ed Muskie, partly because, as Humphrey puts it, the family made it plain that they had no interest in a Shriver nomination.
Shriver is the first to realize how much his membership by marriage in the Kennedy family has both plagued and promoted his political career. He is, in fact, the maverick inlaw, an ambitious man whose efforts to go his own way have created a longstanding coolness between himself and some of the Kennedy family members. Not that he can or even wants to shake the ties that bind him to the charismatic Kennedy image. Kennedys or no Kennedys, Sargent Shriver would be seeking a high position. "For 250 years my family has been in public office," he says. "We've always been bankers, businessmen, public officials. It's a natural thing." The Shriver pride is an inherited trait. "We're nicer than the Kennedys," his mother once said. "We've been here since the 1600s. We're rooted in the land in Maryland."
Shrivers fought in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War; one ancestor, David Shriver, was a member of the original Bill of Rights Congress, and Sargent's grandfather rode with Jeb Stuart in the Confederate cavalry. Son of a banker, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. was born in Westminster, Md., where the nearby family homestead and grain mill, built in 1797, is now a museum run by the Shriver Foundation. Sargent prepped at Canterbury School, New Milford, Conn., went on to graduate cum laude from Yale. As editor of the Yale Daily News, Shriver, a Catholic, once proudly described himself as "Christian, Aristotelian, optimist and American." After graduating from Yale law school, he joined the Navy and fought the war on battleships and in submarines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Working in New York after the war, he met toothy, tawny-haired Eunice Kennedy at a cocktail party. Joseph P. Kennedy, impressed with his daughter's handsome, 6-ft. suitor, offered young Sarge a job at his Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Shriver accepted and eventually moved up to assistant general manager of the Mart; he wed the boss's daughter in 1953, and they settled down in a 14-room duplex. Shriver's energetic involvement in local affairs, most notably as president of the Chicago board of education for five years, prompted some pols to tout him as a promising candidate for the 1964 Illinois gubernatorial race. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, however, dashed Shriver's hopes when he let it be known that he was supporting the Democratic incumbent, Otto Kerner. It was the first of Shriver's several disappointing attempts to run for elective office.