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MARIA SHRIVER: A Life Of Service And Advocacy

By Wendy Schuman

Quick survey: Who do you think is the most inspirational Kennedy?

For me, the answer is Maria Shriver. She’s had a multitude of roles packed into the life of one hugely accomplished 66-year-old woman. Shriver comes from American political royalty. The only girl of five children born to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of JFK, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, and her husband Sargent Shriver.

“So why do I find Maria Shriver so inspiring? Her curiosity, her empathy, her passion not only to help others but also her willingness to personally take up a cause and do the grinding work of finding solutions.”

The family legacy of service is astonishing. Her mother founded the Special Olympics and was an advocate for the disabled. Her father was not only the first director of the Peace Corps—he also founded the Job Corps, Head Start, and Vista, was ambassador to France and ran as vice-presidential running mate in George McGovern’s presidential bid in 1972.

Maria Shriver at age 4 in 1960 with her uncle John F. Kennedy, who’s holding his nephew Timothy Shriver, 14 months. Also pictured is Bobby Shriver, age 6.


Shriver has always been determined to be her own person and make a positive impact on the world. She’s an award-winning broadcast journalist who has anchored CBS and NBC News.
May 2011 – SACRAMENTO, CA – Maria Shriver was sidelined as a network TV journalist when her movie star husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, suddenly decided to jump into politics – the business of her family. The Record

The only time she took a career hiatus was when her former husband, film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, became Governor of California. He served two terms—2003-2011. As First Lady, she was a nonstop activist. She endured a painful and public separation from her husband in 2011 when she learned that Schwarzenegger had fathered a son in 1997 with a member of their household staff—around the same time that their son Christopher was born. Their divorce only became final in 2021.

In 2013, she returned to work as a special anchor at NBC, reporting on issues that affect women. She’s won two Emmy Awards and an Academy of Television Arts & Sciences award for developing a “television show with a conscience” –along with Peabody Awards, the highest honor in TV journalism.

Patrick and Christina (left) and Katherine and Christopher (right) flank their mom.      Photo credit: Vanity Fair

Her most prized role, Shriver says, is being a parent. “It’s better than an Emmy, an Oscar, a Tony, a best-selling whatever, and money in the bank. Period,” she notes.

She and Schwarzenegger have four grown children ranging in age from 32 to 25—Katherine, Christina, Patrick, and Christopher.

“Motherhood: it’s a 24-hours a day on the frontlines of humanity. The most powerful, awe-inspiring, legacy-creating, impact-job on the planet.”

Katherine and actor husband, Chris Pratt                    Photo credit: justjared.com

In 2020 Shriver became a joyful grandmother when her eldest daughter Katherine and husband actor Chris Pratt welcomed a daughter, Lyla Maria Schwarzenegger Pratt. The couple is expecting a second child this summer.


People Magazine reported: “Lyla Maria is preparing to be the best big sister! Soon-to-be mom of two Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt revealed the sweet way her 19-month-old daughter Lyla is ‘nesting’ as the family gets ready to welcome their new addition to the family.”


Private time with her granddaughter

“I have my own little private thing going on with my granddaughter,” Shriver exulted on Fox LA. “We have our own conversation, our own language, I have my own name… I just am beside myself about it.”

What’s the name that tickles her so much? It turns out to be Mom!

Shriver added, “I don’t take that for granted. There are people who don’t get to my age, and who never have that chance to see a grandchild, so that’s one of the things I thank God for every day, that I’m alive to see that.”

At 66 Shriver lights up a room. She has that dazzling Kennedy smile, so much like her mother and her uncles. But there is much more than looks and glamour to Maria Shriver. She shares many of our struggles. She’s been there.

Maria’s uncles, Bobby and Jack Kennedy

It’s well-known that Shriver has lived through family tragedies—including the murder of her uncles and the deaths of beloved cousins like JFK Jr. and his wife.

So why do I find Maria Shriver so inspiring? Her curiosity, her empathy, her passion not only to help others but also her willingness to personally take up a cause and do the grinding work of finding solutions.

WAM Founder Maria Shriver said, “We know that two out of three brains that develop Alzheimer’s belong to women, but we don’t know why…”

Shriver’s mission to eliminate Alzheimer’s

Maria Shriver with her four brothers, mother, Eunice and father, Sargent Shriver who died from Alzheimer’s.

Sargent Shriver, the man who founded the Peace Corps, died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. 

Like many Boomers, Shriver and her brothers became caregivers to their parents. Her mother died at age 88 in 2009 and her father at age 95 in 2011.

When her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2003, Shriver was heartbroken to see his once-brilliant mind disappear. Since then, she has made it her mission to understand and find a cure for this devastating disease.  In 2004 she wrote a best-selling children’s book called “What’s Happening to Grandpa?” She was the executive producer of The Alzheimer’s Project, a four-part series that premiered on HBO in 2009. The documentary reported on the latest medical research being done in leading laboratories. Just as close to her heart are the effects of this disease on patients and families. “It is destroying millions of lives,” she noted. “Young and old. Patients and caregivers. And it’s bankrupting our country.”

As she learned more about Alzheimer’s, she came to the shocking realization that women were disproportionately affected by this disease. More than 55 million people around the globe are living with Alzheimer’s, she has noted. “Two-thirds of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women, and two-thirds of the caregivers for those patients are also women. I wanted to understand why the majority of cases were happening to us.”

In 2010 she founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) and chaired the first-ever virtual WAM Summit. The event included some of the country’s leading minds for a multi-faceted discussion on caregiving, the impact of Alzheimer’s on families, as well as some of the latest research on women’s brains in connection to Alzheimer’s disease. You can watch and share the 2020 summit here.

Under Shriver’s leadership, WAM has become an organization that funds cutting-edge research, supports caregivers, and educates people on how to prevent and cope with the disease.  In 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association awarded Shriver its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for focusing attention on brain health in women and Alzheimer’s prevention.

A fighting chance to change the future

Just recently, her determination to find a cure for Alzheimer’s took a giant leap forward.

In February 2022, the renowned Cleveland Clinic announced a ground-breaking partnership with The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement aimed at further researching and reducing women’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, the partnership is expanding its mission to include all neurological diseases that affect women. In addition to her role as founder of WAM, Shriver will now serve Cleveland Clinic as a strategic partner for Women’s Health and Alzheimer’s.

“My own journey has been full of twists and turns. But throughout it all, one thing has always been constant: My faith and my passion to make a difference and be of service to my family, my community, and to the world.”

Shriver explained: “Having helped establish the fact that women are at the epicenter of Alzheimer’s, we are now intent on focusing on the question of why women are disproportionately impacted by this — and so many other—neurological diseases. We could not have found more powerful, effective partners in this endeavor than Cleveland Clinic with its proven commitment to ground-breaking science and its thousands of highly gifted researchers and medical personnel around the world.” Shriver added. “Together, we stand a fighting chance in our efforts to change the future for women’s brains.”

“We are excited to have Maria Shriver join us as we work to further explore and understand the connections between how women’s unique biology and health experiences over the course of a lifetime impact their risk for developing Alzheimer’s and other diseases,” said Beri Ridgeway, M.D., Cleveland Clinic’s Chief of Staff. “WAM and Maria have been at the forefront of making sex differences in brain health a matter of discussion, paving the way for groundbreaking research, education, and innovation.”

The spiritual dimension of Maria Shriver

Two years ago—just as the COVID pandemic struck—Shriver started a weekly newsletter, The Sunday Paper, intending as she put it, “To inspire hearts and minds and to elevate the voices and ideas of those trying to move humanity forward.” Her positive messages, empathetic reminders, and prayers are a welcome antidote to what she calls “the noise”—all the news that makes us feel distressed and helpless.

She now has tons of subscribers. Here is a link for you to subscribe:

In practicing what she has learned about brain wellness, Shriver has made exercise, good nutrition, and meditation part of her daily routine. She meditates for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. She also prays and expresses thanks.

She writes, “It’s in my DNA to strive for a life of purpose and meaning, but as we all know, figuring out your passion and purpose can be a challenge.

“My own journey has been full of twists and turns. But throughout it all, one thing has always been constant: My faith and my passion to make a difference and be of service to my family, my community, and to the world.”


Wendy SchumanWendy Schuman is a former editor with Parents and Beliefnet.  Wendy is the proud grandmom of four.  Wendy and her husband help a new generation of college grads in Millennials in Wonderland. To learn more about Grad Life Choices their pro-bono coaching program, click here:


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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