The Rip Post                                Paul Weeks

 Dying just like going into battle

(Dear friends: Wh00ps! Got up a 3:30 this morning so see if this column was on line, because I wanted to let you know I had no idea when I submitted this piece for July publication that I was going to be in the same boat as the friend I am writing about. Then I saw that I could enter a “comment” before anyone else could to explain my…’er…embarrassment. So I tacked it on the end. No comparison, though. He got cut short at 67, with painful surgery and distress. With liver cancer, virtually no pain or surgery, and with 20 more years of the good life than he enjoyed, who am I to complain?)

By Paul Weeks
The Record

July 03, 2007 6:00 AM

He was a great writer who didn't write a book until he knew he was dying. Let me tell you about him.

Herb Kramer was public-relations adviser to the John F. Kennedy Foundation when Eunice Kennedy Shriver discussed with him the idea of an oath for the first Special Olympics Summer Games, scheduled for July 10, 1968, in Chicago.

"I asked Herb to draft something so that the athletes would feel good about trying, and if they were not successful, they wouldn't feel that they had failed," Shriver recalled.

Herb suggested that the athletes go into the arena with these words on their lips, just like Roman gladiators: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." And that's the way Shriver opened the first Special Olympics.

Herb came into my life when he was public-information director of the war on poverty, headed by Sargent Shriver, Eunice's husband. I took a year's leave from the Los Angeles Times to work as a program inspector for Sargent Shriver, who had read my coverage of civil rights for the newspaper. Later, when he asked me to direct the public-information program for the war on poverty in the seven Western states, Herb was my mentor and boss.

When President Nixon took office, I knew the war on poverty's program was near the end. Herb then recommended me to become public-information director for the RAND Co., the Santa Monica defense think tank.

We saw each other occasionally thereafter when I helped with Special Olympics and Sargent Shriver's ill-fated 1972 bid for vice president. Wondering a few days ago what had become of Herb, I used the Google search engine.

I found Herb had died 15 years ago from an ailment with which he had lived for three years. In those years, he and wife Kay, a social worker accustomed to working with hospice patients, wrote a book together, "Conversations at Midnight: Coming to Terms With Dying and Death."

On the cover is an endorsement by the acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers: "This book will be of great comfort. I recommend it highly."

So do I.

Herb maybe never thought about it that way, but he had written his own dying oath long ago. "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Sarge Shriver is living with Alzheimer's disease. I have lost touch with Eunice Shriver and haven't seen their daughter, Maria, the wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, since she was a little girl, sitting on the stairs of the Shrivers' Maryland home.

But I know the family holds fond memories with Herb's widow, as I do, of the man who bravely faced his own death.

Post script: Ironically, I didn't know until long after I submitted this column for publication that I face the same deadline that my friend did. I was found to have a fatal illness too that perhaps will give me a few more months. But you will find me in this space as long as I can write. Hang in there with me. Paul Weeks

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