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Sargent Shriver: A visionary, and an extraordinary person of action

Sargent Shriver
REUTERS/JFK Library
Sargent Shriver

In the days since his passing, much has been written about Sargent Shriver and his accomplishments. President Barack Obama described him as a “model public servant.” I completely agree.

Anyone interested in public service should know about Sarge’s life. Director of the Peace Corps, architect of the War on Poverty, ambassador, vice presidential and presidential candidate, and founder of the Special Olympics. Can anyone have a more impressive résumé than that?

I had the opportunity to work with Sarge over a period of 30 years, and am fortunate to consider him a mentor. A couple of things I learned from Sarge: First, everyone is important, and second, focus on the future.

Whether you were the president of France or the resident of a homeless shelter, Sarge made you feel that you were one of the most extraordinary people he’d ever met. When I served as director of VISTA in the Clinton administration — Sarge was also the founder of the VISTA program — he would introduce me at gatherings as if I had the most important job in the entire administration. Sarge’s fundamental belief in people, their goodness and their potential, made him value every person he met, and they knew it.

And while long ago he could have rested on his laurels and devoted his time to reflecting on the past, what he really cared about was the future. His eyes would light up and a flurry of ideas come forth if you started talking to him about how we should fight poverty today, or how we could enlist more people in the Peace Corps and national service programs.

A passion for making the world better
He was passionate about making the world better, more just and compassionate. What we did next — the future — was the way to create the world he envisioned.

Sarge was a visionary, but he was also a person of action. Today let us continue to ask and explore what it means to be a responsible, engaged citizen.

But let us also commit to some positive action. It would make Sarge smile.

Jim Scheibel is Executive in Residence, School of Business, Hamline University and a former mayor of St. Paul. He can be reached at jscheibel01 [at] hamline.edu.

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