Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sargent Shriver…at a Bears Game and Southwest Side Bar. A Memoir.

       Cut down in the prime of life at 95, Sargent Shriver’s first public service role….while manager of his father-in-law’s office building, the Merchandise Mart…was as head of the Chicago school board.  I met him a few times, he being a Yale law school classmate of my boss (in the famous class that included Jerry Ford, Potter Stewart who became a Supreme Court justice, my boss (CEO of Quaker Oats), Bill Scranton, Pennsylvania governor and GOP presidential aspirant, Byron [Whizzer] White, a football star and Supreme Court justice and Peter Dominick, a former U. S. Senator from Colorado.   Again when I ran the Peace Corps’ advertising and media shop and he came to visit as a former and first director.
       He was the world’s most charming laugher…yes I said laugher—with a handsome face and interesting eastern guffaw that was trademark-stamped elitist, rich. He was a scion of an old Maryland family that began with David Shriver who signed the state’s colonial charter followed by others who belonged to that state’s most patrician family.  But the money started running out when he was young and by the time he finished expensive Connecticut boarding school he was hard-pressed to find the money to go where his ancestors had matriculated—Yale.
        He had to work his way through Yale but did it so classily  that nobody understood his patricianship was hard up. That’s because however he did it, he wore the most expensive suits.  Later when he married into the billionaire Kennedy family, he dressed even more lavishly.   And whether poor or rich, he was always fashionable, knowing what to order and what small talk to manage among his fellow elites.  Old man Kennedy hired him for the Merchandise Mart job whereupon Shriver immediately set his cap for Eunice.  Because Old Joe researched him and knew he was fashionably poor, he fought his daughter Eunice’s dating him because he suspected Shriver was trying to marry into the fortune. The stall lasted four years when Old Joe finally gave up and escorted Eunice down the aisle depositing her in Sargent Shriver’s open arms. 
        Two occasions in Chicago which are memorable.
         One was at a Bears game when having taken the school board presidency at the behest of Mayor Richard J. Daley he went to a Bears game and sat outside with the mayor in the city’s official box.  
       Clad in an Brioni suit  wearing a Vicuna overcoat…the most expensive fabric to be found, lighter and warmer than any wool on earth, made from a member of the cameldid family, first cousin to the llama which lives on the grasslands and plains of the high Andes, harvested by natives rounding up wild vicunas every five years into corrals where they are sheared and released…Shriver was introduced by the mayor to Daley’s latest chief of security who was to join them in the mayoral box.
      “Meet Sargent Shriver,” the mayor said and Shriver jumped up and pumped the officer’s hand.
       “Hi,” said the cop—and then stuck for small talk asked:   “How long have you been a sergeant?”
       “All my life!” said Shriver while Daley emitted that high-pitched laugh people knew as one of general delight.
        “All your life?”
        “Who made you a sergeant?”
        “My Dad and Mum.”
       The conversation seemed to go on interminably until Daley explained it to the policeman.
       The second most memorable time was in 1972 when George McGovern picked him for vice president after it was revealed that the convention’s choice, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, had been treated with electrical shock to alleviate bouts of depression.
        Shriver came to Chicago and after making a few speeches embarked on an auto trip in the company of some aldermen and committeemen to some neighborhoods to show the working class that he was exactly like them.  They walked into a working man’s bar on the Southwest Side and the top guy of the delegation rapped his knuckles on the counter and said—
       “Hey, guys….I want youse to meet the party’s vice presidential nominee, Sargent Shriver!”
       For once Shriver seemed to get the tone right. He spoke only 30 seconds about union workers getting a break to equal the elite white collars and wound up:

      “Enough of this!  Let me buy all of you drinks that’ll be on me.  What’ll  you have?”
       Lusty cheers
       They all cried out: “Shot and a better…scotch and water! Bourbon and water!”
        The drinks came quickly and one guy on a stool said--]
       “Hey,Sarge…what’ll you have with us?”
        Shriver smiled and said, “I’ve had dinner….um, bartender—give me a Courvoissier.”

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