|Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaks at Mar. 3 ceremony in her honor.
“It is with the greatest pride for all of us at the National Institutes of Health that we witness thechange of the name of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,” said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni at NICHD’s recent 45th anniversary celebration. “Mrs. Shriver, this change in our name represents far more than your role in helping to establish this institute. The dedication, the commitment and the passion that you bring to this effort is a beacon
for scientists around the country and the world and for the millions of people with intellectual
and developmental disabilities.”
Proposed by Shriver’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, NICHD was established in 1963. Legislation recently enacted by Congress authorized
the name change in Shriver’s honor.
NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander explained that it was Shriver who persuaded President Kennedy to include the proposal for an NIH institute focusing on child health and human development in his first health message
to Congress. At the time, NIH institutes focused only on a particular organ system or disease category.
Alexander noted that Shriver also testified before the congressional committees in support
of the bill for the new institute and worked behind the scenes to persuade members of Congress
of the need for it.
“In Washington and elsewhere, many good ideas languish unfulfilled,” Alexander said. “That could have happened with this idea if a champion had not come forward to bring it to fruition. That champion was Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was passionate about improving the lives of persons with mental retardation.”
Chatting with Shriver (r) at the event are (from l) her brother Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Dr. Nadia Zerhouni and her husband, NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.
Other guests include (from l) California
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shriver’s son-in-law; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), cosponsor of the legislation that changed the name of NICHD; and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
NICHD director Alexander (l) joins Jana Monaco (standing, c) and her children. The family benefited from studies conducted at an NICHD research center.
Alexander also announced that Shriver would be inducted into the NICHD Hall of Honor. Housed in the institute’s Bldg. 31 offices, the Hall of Honor features commemorative plaques that recognize individuals who have made noteworthy contributions to child health and human development. Shriver’s plaque will stand at the hall’s entrance, to mark her founding role in the institute’s history.
In addition, Alexander said that NICHD also has renamed its Mental Retardation and Developmental
Disabilities Research Centers Program
in honor of Shriver. The 14 university-based facilities in the program seek to advance the diagnosis, prevention, treatment and amelioration
of intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Alexander explained that the centers
were first proposed by Dr. Robert Cooke, a member of President-elect Kennedy’s transition team.
|NICHD director Alexander unveils the plaque announcing Shriver’s induction into the NICHD Hall of Honor, which is located on the 2nd floor of Bldg. 31’s A wing. NICHD also has renamed its Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers Program in honor of Shriver.
“[The Program’s] purpose was to move mental
retardation research out of the shadows of the institutions and into the mainstream of research by providing federal funds to construct research facilities at universities and medical schools to attract top-quality scientists to the field,” Alexander said. “Again, it was Mrs. Shriver
whose advocacy efforts with the administration
and the Congress achieved passage of this legislation in 1963.”
The program is now known as the Eunice Kennedy
Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Research Centers Program. The name change acknowledges Shriver’s contribution and renames the centers with terms more accurately reflecting current usage.
One of these research centers, Children’s National
Medical Center, played an important role in diagnosing and treating a rare disease that had a devastating impact on a Washington-area family. Jana Monaco of Woodbridge, Va., spoke of how she found her 3-year-old son Stephen unconscious
one morning. Researchers at Children’s determined that Stephen suffered from a rare disorder, isovaleric acidemia. Stephen lacked an important enzyme for processing proteins and had suffered severe brain damage.
Zerhouni enters Natcher with Maria Shriver and husband Schwarzenegger.
Alexander greets the guest of honor before the program. Shriver was also the subject of a video tribute—Life in the Shadows. Two other videos were shown during the program, one on Special Olympics and one containing greetings from some of the newly renamed NICHD centers.
Monaco added that her daughter Caroline was a testament to the work done at the centers. A year after she found Stephen, Monaco learned she was pregnant with another child. Scientists at the center determined that the baby she carried also had the same rare disorder. Shortly after Caroline was born, researchers put her on a special diet. As a result, she escaped the nervous system damage
her brother suffered.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, quoted President Kennedy, speaking about children with disabilities:
“Although these children have been the victims
of fate, they shall not be the victims of our neglect.” Hoyer said that those remarks were especially appropriate to Shriver; because of her life’s work, children with developmental disabilities
“shall not be the victims of our neglect.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), cosponsor of the legislation
that changed the name of the institute, said that because of Shriver’s vision, considerable
progress had been made in children’s health and in helping individuals with intellectual
and developmental disabilities.
“Eunice, congratulations for all that you’ve done for mankind,” Hatch said. “We all owe you a great debt.”
Shriver family attending the NICHD anniversary program include (from l) the honoree; her son, Dr. Timothy Shriver, chair of Special Olympics International;
his wife, Linda Potter Shriver; Eunice’s husband, Sargent Shriver; and the honoree’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith. The event was held Mar. 3 in Natcher auditorium.
Shriver’s NICHD Hall of Honor plaque
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) recounted his sister’s accomplishments. These included heading
the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation and advocating for people with disabilities, helping to establish the first Presidential commission on mental retardation and founding the Special Olympics. He said she also dreamed of a world-class facility that would focus on the needs and treatment of children with developmental disabilities.
After the election of 1960, she saw her opportunity and discussed the idea with President
Kennedy every time she saw him.
“I guess you could say that Eunice has a talent for getting her way,” Kennedy said. “And lucky for all of us, ‘her way’ is to make the world a better place for people with disabilities—and she’s been doing that with incredible success for more than 60 years.”
Shriver thanked Kennedy, her husband Sargent Shriver, her children and other family members
for the love and support they provided her through the years. She added that her sister Rosemary, who had suffered rejection because of an intellectual disability, had been the driving
force behind her family’s efforts on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. She concluded
her remarks by asking everyone to stand up for people with such disabilities.
“There is no purpose nobler than to build communities
of acceptance for all,” she said. “This is our glory. This is the greatness of the United States of America.”
After the ceremony, Shriver, Kennedy and their sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, personally greeted each of the 500 guests attending the event in a receiving line in the Natcher foyer.
JFK’s Persistence Secured First NICHD Director
|Photo: Mike Spencer
“As all of you who know Eunice understand, she is not the kind of person who takes no for an answer,” Sen. Edward Kennedy
said at the Mar. 3 event honoring
“In fact, she doesn’t take the first 100 no’s for an answer.”
Persistence, apparently, is a Kennedy family trait. At a recent meeting of NICHD’s advisory council, director Dr. Duane Alexander relayed this story of the institute’s beginnings:
The search committee charged with finding a director for the new institute unanimously
recommended Dr. Robert A. “Bob” Aldrich for the job. However, when then-NIH director Dr. James Shannon offered him the position, Aldrich turned him down—more than once, in fact. Aldrich thanked Shannon, but explained he wasn’t interested as he was very happy serving as chair of the University of Washington Medical
School’s pediatrics department.
A short time later, Aldrich’s phone rang. President
Kennedy was calling, personally asking
Aldrich to serve as NICHD’s first director
and to help establish the new institute. Aldrich thanked the President for his interest,
but again explained that he couldn’t possibly
abandon his position at the University of Washington.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. This time, it was the University of Washington’s president. He told Aldrich that Aldrich’s refusal of a call to service by the President of the United
States reflected badly on the university.
“You’re fired,” the university president said before he slammed the phone down.
Still absorbing the shock of the news, Aldrich had barely put the receiver back in its cradle when the phone rang once more. “This is President
Kennedy calling again,” said the voice at the other end. “I understand that you’re out of a job. I know of an opening that you might be interested in.”
Aldrich served as NICHD director from March 1963 to October 1964 before returning to the University of Washington Medical School.
Legislation authorizing NICHD passed in October
1962. “We will look to the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development
for a concentrated attack on the unsolved health problems of children and of mother-infant relationships,” President Kennedy said when he signed the bill into law. “This legislation
will encourage imaginative research into the complex processes of human development from conception to old age.”
In 1974, the NICHD research program on aging was transferred to the National Institute on Aging, created by Congress to focus on the health and well-being of older people.