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Eunice Shriver made a difference

Eunice Kennedy Shriver died yesterday at the age of 88. News of her passing evokes some memories for me.

The Special Olympics silver dollar of 1995 bears her portrait. In the debate over what the design should be for the coin, we in the hobby relearned something we probably knew generations ago but had forgotten: living persons can appear on U.S. coins.

The precedents were there. Gov. T.E. Kilby of Alabama appeared on a 1921 half dollar marking the centennial of that state’s admission to the Union.

The Sesquicentennial half dollar of 1926 shows President Calvin Coolidge during his term as President.

Shriver then appeared on the dollar as the founder of the Special Olympics, though the origin of the program was an athletic event in Chicago in 1968. Shriver took it up and made it international.

During the debate on the coinage, I wrote an editorial favoring the coin. It was a single silver dollar design, which I found refreshing. The Olympic program for the 1996 Games was going to be 32 pieces. That was at the height of the commemorative proliferation era when we in the hobby were recoiling from the excess. Imagine settling for just one coin.

It was a good cause. It was modest.

My support for the program also elicited two interesting telephone calls.

I was telephoned at home one evening by Sargent Shriver, the founding head of the Peace Corps and a former vice presidential candidate. He was also Eunice’s husband. He thanked me for my support. That graciousness set him apart.

A second phone call reached me in the office late one afternoon to help keep the universe in balance. The man from Pennsylvania was irate. Didn’t I know I was supporting a Kennedy? A Kennedy!! He canceled his subscription on the spot.

I never met Eunice Kennedy Shriver, but she obviously made a difference with her life.

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