R. Sargent Shriver Jr., who was the first director of the Peace Corps and led the government’s war on poverty in the 1960s, was honored at a gathering at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where more than $500,000 was raised for a national poverty law program, officials said Friday.
“In my lifetime, America has never had a stronger warrior for peace and against poverty than Sargent Shriver,” said former President Bill Clinton, who gave Thursday evening’s keynote address.
Among the other Democratic luminaries on hand were several former Clinton Cabinet members, including Warren Christopher, who served as secretary of state; William Daley, the Commerce Department chief; Henry G. Cisneros, who headed Housing and Urban Development; and Mickey Kantor, who served as secretary of commerce.
Kantor introduced Shriver as a visionary, an advocate and a leader. The two met more than 30 years ago, when Kantor was a young attorney representing migrant workers in Florida in the federally funded Legal Services program that Shriver started when he headed the Office of Economic Opportunity under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Legal Services was one of the most successful, and probably the most controversial, of all the war-on-poverty programs that Shriver started. His vision is that legal services for the poor are essential not just to level the playing field in individual cases, but to use the law to solve community problems. Legal Services lawyers have won dozens of cases in the Supreme Court and lower courts, establishing new rights for welfare recipients, low-income tenants and migrant workers.
The dinner launched a fund-raising campaign for the National Center on Poverty Law, an organization Shriver began in 1967 to provide a strategic research and communications hub for the national network of lawyers trying to help move people out of poverty. The center, which was federally financed until the mid-1990s when Congress eliminated its budget, is funded by foundations and other donors.
Though Shriver is three weeks shy of 88, he was in high spirits as he greeted hundreds of friends and well-wishers, first at a reception and then in the hotel ballroom Thursday night. “I’m lucky. I’m still healthy,” he told an acquaintance.