'Friend and Mentor'

15 Aug 2009
Eunice Kennedy Shriver by Bono.

August 13th 2009... 3pm... Playing Wembley Stadium is one of the greatest moments of my musical life, and that's where I am headed right now. It's summer in London, and the rain looks like it's done a deal with our band to stay away. My heart is travelling faster than the car, and it seems to be breaking every light in the city... but my mouth is unusually shut.

Silence does not seem like the right way to say goodbye to a friend, mentor, and matriarch of the community that binds all activists. Eunice Shriver has managed to shut me up for the first time since I have known her. Shut up and listen is what you should do when you are in her company. I wish I'd done more of both. Now I ask myself what all of us will ask ourselves in a hundred situations for the rest of our lives... 'what would Eunice say?'

Bobby and I couldn't have done what we did with Drop the Debt, or DATA, or (Red), or ONE, without her. From early financial support, to wisdom lodged in a fairly empty account on my part, she instilled the thought that injustice is just not as smart as a collective imagination that gathers to defeat it. Injustice seems singular... Justice, a pluralist working out of common decency, can cover more ground quicker if everyone knows their part in the tune. Eunice was the ultimate conductor.

Rarely are high-mindedness, intellect, stubbornness and passion served on the same plate as modesty. Not modesty in any demure sense of that word. More the modesty of the Irish matriarch, who needed very little love, warmth, encouragement and thanks - as long as the family had its share.

I remember one perhaps telling incident of the way her brain works: she had come to see U2 in ZOO TV in Boston in 1992. It was a very challenging show for the band and the audience. A multimedia extravaganza, wrapped around a line from the poet Brendan Kennelly's Book of Judas: 'the best way to serve the age is to betray it'. At one point in the show I came on as the ultimate satanic rock star but with dementia... a character we created in a gold lamé suit called McPhisto. There was consternation in our audience, and from many commentators. Eunice came backstage after the show: 'Gosh Bono... I used to come to a U2 show and see angels... tonight there were more than a few devils present. A much better show.. a much fairer fight'.

Famously singleminded about getting things done, she seemed drawn to duality and all its awkward uneasiness. The flaw that makes the frame... the sadness in the Mona Lisa's smile... the minor notes which haunt a melody. To be so tender, a toughness is required... what Martin Luther King implored as 'the strength to love'. This was Eunice Kennedy Shriver.


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