Her bona fides are widely known: She’s a fourth-generation Kennedy. Daughter of Eunice and Sargent Shriver. Separated spouse of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Former first lady of California. Mother. Journalist. Author. Yet when Maria Shriver welcomes visitors into her light-filled Los Angeles office, she introduces herself simply as “Maria.”
In person, she seems a strong presence, tall and more curvaceous than one might expect — and serene, unlikely to be rattled.
Raised Catholic, she wears bracelets of Tibetan-style prayer beads, and amid the images of angels and crosses in her work space are statues of Buddha and compassion goddess Guanyin, candles and inspirational messages. “Difficulties are opportunities for inner growth,” reads one. “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why,” reads another.
All around are framed photographs: Shriver on the dais at The Women’s Conference, a Southern California gathering she hosted from 2004 through 2010; Shriver with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey; Shriver and her four children: Katherine, 23; Christina, 22; Patrick, 20; and Christopher, 16. (Noticeably absent in the photos is Schwarzenegger, who we’ve been warned is off-limits as a discussion topic.)
When she is asked which of her many roles is her favorite, Shriver pauses, then says, “I’m trying to get away from roles. I used to identify myself strictly in terms of my role, but when your roles fall away, part of you falls with them.”
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At 58, Shriver has experienced spectacular achievements, but certainly more than her share of losses. Aunts, uncles and cousins have been tragically taken, and in 2009 her mother died, followed in 2011 by her father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease; toward the end, he no longer knew his daughter’s name.
Shriver gave up her job as an NBC News anchor in 2004 after her husband was elected California governor, to be a better advocate for him; in May 2011, just months after he left office, the couple announced their separation after Schwarzenegger admitted to secretly fathering a son 14 years earlier with the family’s longtime housekeeper, Mildred Baena.
Though their divorce is not final, Shriver clearly is moving on. While still placing a priority on her children, she is now taking time to focus on herself. “That’s certainly been a struggle for me,” she says.
Shriver recently signed back on with NBC. She runs two websites — The Shriver Report, about societal issues American women face, and Maria Shriver, which profiles people she calls “architects of change.” (Learn more by watching the video at the bottom of pages 2, 3 and 4.) In January she will publish her third “Shriver Report,” about women living on the brink economically.
Referring to 2011 as a year in which “I was trying to reimagine my life,” Shriver tucks a tendril of her long, thick hair behind an ear and says, “You have to be willing to let go of the life you planned in order to make the life you’re meant to live.”
Next page: The interview. »