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Happy Hour: More Than A Funny Name


This week the Clan Kenndey is celebrating the life of my late brother-in-law, Robert Sargent Shriver. And I do mean celebrating.  He was a friend in need and a pious man who wasn't above knocking back a pint or worshipping the creature with the rest of us.

Needless to say, the wake is still in progress. And will be so long as the whiskey holds out.

I won’t call Sargent a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man – and I’m talkin’ about the Sarge here – sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that was the Sarge.

The Sarge came to us from outside.  My father felt sorry for him, took him in, and treated him as one of his own.  And we all grew to look at Sarge as our brother.  Everyone liked the Sarge. His natural self-depreciating manner and willingness to endure our constant womanizing made him welcome on all our nocturnal adventures. He was not the kind of man who naturally made enemies.

He was the perfect complement to my ambitious and bellicose father and brothers. Where John was coldly calculating and ruthless, and Bobby prone to violent action, Sarge was the voice of reason. Often playing devil's advocate, and searching for a resolution that didn't involve bribes or eliminating troublemakers.  He was the ultimate team player and a gentle man who knew when and how to keep his mouth shut. He tolerated all of our shenanigans, and made the Kennedy administration more respectable.

Politics were never Sarge's thing, but since it was the Family business, he knew that he'd have to endure it.  His first real taste of it came in 1964 when that hammer-headed Texan, LBJ, wanted him as running mate.  Bobby quickly put a stop to that, saying, "There's not going to be a Kennedy on the ticket. And if there were, it would be me." Naturally Johnson was terrified of Bobby and so he backed off and settled for that pile of dirty rags, Hubert.  At that point Sarge went to visit LBJ to make sure that he understood the Way Things Are, and that he shouldn't try to carry a grudge. 

Then there was that time in '72, when Senator McGovern's running mate, Tom Eagleton, had to leave the campaign in disgrace after the press found out he had undergone electro-shock therapy for major depression. Tom hadn't bothered to tell McGovern, whose judgement now appeared to be dodgy and whose campaign was well and truly sunk.  In desperation, McGovern reached out to us for help.  Once again, Sarge stepped in and, even though it was a doomed move, Sarge agreed to do McGovern a favor and be his running mate.  And, when McGovern was whipped like a runaway slave, the Sarge stayed on to comfort him, while reminding him that he now had an obligation to the Family.

Both John and Bobby were sincere in their desire to make the Kennedy Family completely legitimate by  helping the coloreds and the poor, but being Kennedys, they really had no idea what to do.  For us, being poor meant only being able to afford buying a municipal election.  Sarge was different.  He seemed to have this strange connection to the less fortunate, and while John and Bobby were giving lip-service to helping out, the Sarge did something.  He was the heart and the concious of our organization. He founded Headstart, the Peace Corps, and Vista. He was so diplomatic and tolerant that he even served as ambassador to France for two years.

Sarge was our conscience, our humility and our gentleness.  He was our consiglieri.

So, hoist a glass and drink to the Sarge with me.

Bottoms up!