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In 1960 Shriver left Chicago to join the presidential campaign of his brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy, as an adviser. Described by Theodore White in The Making of the President 1960 as "the gentlest and warmest of the Kennedy clan," Sargent was appointed director of the newly formed Peace Corps the following year. He reluctantly accepted the job, he says, only after J.F.K. told him that "everyone in Washington thought that the Peace Corps was going to be the biggest fiasco in history, and that it would be easier to fire a relative than a friend." Shriver developed the corps into one of the U.S.'s most successful and fastest growing peacetime agencies. In his first two years on the job, he logged 350,000 miles visiting corps outposts, learned to sleep sitting up in a Jeep, ate countless helpings of stomach-churning local dishes, developed three cases of dysentery, and bravely insisted all the while that "I have the best damn job in Government." In 1964, at the behest of Lyndon Johnson, Shriver took on the additional job of director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. A realist, Shriver said at the time that the all-out war on poverty was and would continue to be "noisy, visible, dirty, uncomfortable and sometimes politically unpopular." Shriver's performance in that war won him valuable battle ribbons as a friend of the poor and disaffected. When he left the Peace Corps, some 1,500 former staffers and volunteers crowded a huge Shriver-a-go-go farewell party; at one high point, Harry Belafonte called from the stage: "We'll miss you, baby."
Appointed U.S. Ambassador to France in 1968, Shriver continued his frenetic pace on the foreign front. Says one observer of the Shriver style: "He thought it was better to try 50 things and succeed in 30 of them than to try ten and succeed in ten." Some things did succeed. Helped by Nixon's admiration for De Gaulle, the acerbated diplomatic relations between the U.S. and France became better than they had been in more than a decade. The fact that Shriver was the only Kennedy man to stay on during the Johnson and Nixon Administrations did not, however, improve his relations with the family back home. When Bobby Kennedy announced his presidential candidacy in 1968, many clan members, especially Bobby's wife Ethel, were miffed because Shriver did not promptly return home to join the campaign. Two years later, when Shriver resigned his ambassadorship with the hope of possibly running for Bobby's New York Senate seat, the family reacted with a firm no. "Ethel," says one Kennedy aide, "couldn't abide the thought of Shriver in Bobby's old Senate seat."
Turning to his home state of Maryland, Shriver campaigned briefly in 1970 as an undeclared gubernatorial candidate against the Democratic incumbent, Marvin Mandel, who proved too securely dug in to be challenged. To keep visible, Shriver accepted the petition of more than 100 Democratic Congressmen to head up a group called the Congressional Leadership for the Future. For the four months before the 1970 election, Shriver visited 32 states stumping vigorously for the election of 80 Democratic candidates for Congress, everywhere calling Nixon "King Richard" and Agnew "the nation's great divider."