Big gift in small package

Martha’s Vineyard, MA — She had the skinniest legs I ever saw in my life.
They were so teeny twig-thin that she reinforced them with surgical support knee-high stockings.

The first time I met her in Washington, DC I feared she might not be long for the world because she was so thin and her Boston accent so quivering. That was in 1987.

Fragile as she appeared physically, there was absolutely nothing frail about Eunice Kennedy Shriver when she addressed you.

She was strong, passionate, gracious, encouraging, quick-witted and accommodating. With the speed of a bullet train, she made connections between and among people.

I saw immediately how this tiny, powerful sister of President Kennedy launched a movement (Special Olympics) and got so much done in her life. She mixed and matched, invited and inspired people to join her causes and support yours quicker than you can say “Camelot.”

I was lucky to be in politics during that time and to meet her. And, it was during one of those delightful people-connecting-moments that her genius led me to one of my best ideas ever – Friday Nights on the Deck.

By the late 1980s, her husband former Vice Presidential candidate Sargent Shriver had slowed down (but she certainly hadn’t) and was semi-retired at their home on the Potomac River near Washington. Every day at 4PM she organized a cocktail hour with Sarge. “Please come have a drink on the porch with Sarge,” she always offered. “You never know who’s in town and who you’ll meet.”

Sadly, I never went.

When my husband Rob and I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2001 we found so many fascinating and diverse people living here and visiting us that we adopted her great idea of “Sarge on the Porch at 4PM” and made it our own. We named it “Friday Nights on the Deck.”

In the summers, we invite island visitors as well as our friends, houseguests and neighbors to drop in to meet each other. It’s always a fascinating mix-and-match of people and if I do say myself, it’s always fabulous!

Nothing thrills me more than when people tell me of new friendships or connections from meeting someone at “Deck Night,” as some have nicknamed it.

In addition to mixing and mingling,  we occasionally invite special guests to speak or perform. Over the years of summer Fridays, we’ve had well-known authors give talks and sign books, poetry readings, artists, entrepreneurs, a 13-year-old hip-hop dancer, concerts (featuring our favorites such as rock star Stuart Davis, violist Evan Wilson and Boston’s best Latin band Sol Y Canto with Rosi and Brian Amador.)

Even noted author and respected Buddhist Lama Surya Das stopped by one evening. It is always a patchwork of wonderful and engaging people eager to know and meet each other.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver died at age 88 this morning, 22 years after I mistakenly feared she wasn’t long for the world.

Those tiny little legs sure carried a powerful presence that made huge differences in the world, large and small.

She probably had no idea one of her enduring legacies would be “Sarge on the Porch” — the mixing-and-matching of fascinating, interesting and interested people that will continue proudly and passionately in her honor — on the deck.