WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to former president Bill Clinton,talk show host Oprah Winfrey and 14 others on Wednesday at the White House.
The medal is the nation’s highest honor for civilians.
This is the 50th year for the medal,and it has been given to more than 500 people.
“These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit,the values that define us as Americans,the potential that lives inside of all of us,” Obama said during the crowded East Room ceremony.
To Clinton,who served as president for the majority of the 1990s,Obama said that he is grateful for the advice and counsel he’s offered “on and off the golf course.”
“He doesn’t stop,” Obama said. “He’s helped lead relief efforts after the Asian tsunami,Hurricane Katrina,the Haiti earthquake. His foundation and global initiative have helped to save or improve the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people.”
Former Indiana senator Richard Lugar,81,was another of the recipients. He was in the Senate for nearly 36 years,serving as the senior Republican on both the Foreign Relations and Agriculture committees. One of his most notable works was legislation he sponsored with Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn – the Nunn-Lugar Act – an initiative to secure and dismantle nuclear,biological and chemical weapons.
“Well,this award is very special because it really commemorated the work that we have done to try and eliminate the threat to our country from weapons of mass destruction,” Lugar said after the ceremony.
Obama,who discussed each recipient’s achievements,talked about country music legend Loretta Lynn and her journey to becoming an icon.
He talked about Lynn’s “big win” when she was 19 – taking home 17 blue ribbons from the local fair for her canned vegetables. It made her “Canner of the Year.”
A Butcher Hollow,Ky.,native,Lynn brought country music the songs “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “One’s On the Way.”
The president said Lynn gave “voice to a generation,singing what no one wanted to talk about and saying what no one wanted to think about.”
Another recipient,former baseball player Ernie Banks,82,known as “Mr. Cub,” became the first black player for the Chicago Cubs.
“Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way,” Obama said.
Even though the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908,Banks said he thinks maybe next year.
Feminist,journalist and activist Gloria Steinem,79,was awarded the medal for the work she continues to do shining light on women’s issues. Steinem was a columnist for New York magazine and co-founded Ms. Magazine.
“She also changed how women thought about themselves,” Obama said.
Obama praised Winfrey for her rise from humble beginnings,her ground-breaking TV show and her charitable works.
“In her story,we are reminded that no dream can be deferred when we refuse to let life’s obstacles keep us down,” he said.
Other luminaries in the East Room audience included Hillary and Chelsea Clinton; Gayle King,co-anchor of the CBM show “This Morning,” and director Steven Spielberg.
The Medal of Freedom was created by president John F. Kennedy to honor civilians.
Reach reporter Jessica C. Wray at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.
Here is the list of those who were were given the the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday:
- Ernie Banks: Chicago Cubs baseball player and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
- Ben Bradlee: former executive editor of The Washington Post
- Bill Clinton: former president of the United States and founder of the Clinton Foundation
- Daniel Inouye: receiving the award posthumously,Medal of Honor recipient for service in World War II and a former U.S. senator from Hawaii – the first Japanese American to serve in Congress
- Daniel Kahneman: psychologist,Nobel Prize in economics winner in 2002
- Richard Lugar: former U.S. senator from Indiana,served nearly 36 years,was a leader in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons
- Loretta Lynn: country music singer,one of the first successful female artists in country music
- Mario Molina: chemist and environmental scientist,earned the Nobel Prize in chemistry
- Sally Ride: receiving the award posthumously,the first American female astronaut to travel to space
- Bayard Rustin: receiving the award posthumously,civil rights activists,adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Arturo Sandoval: jazz trumpeter,pianist and composer,has been awarded nine Grammy Awards
- Dean Smith: former head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team,civil rights activist
- Gloria Steinem: writer and women’s equality activist,leader in the women’s liberation movement and co-founder of Ms. Magazine
- Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian: minister,author and organizer,a leader in the civil rights movement and friend to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Patricia Wald: appellate judge,first woman appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia who was chief judge in the 1980s
- Oprah Winfrey: broadcast journalist,talk show host,philanthropist