Presidential Medal of Freedom Awarded to Jack Kemp ‘57
The late Jack Kemp '57 was among 16 individuals to whom President Barack Obama ’83 awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom this afternoon in the East Room of the White House.
The medal is America's highest civilian honor.
Obama said that Kemp and the other honorees, who come from the fields of politics, the arts, science, sports, and human rights, were chosen for their work as agents of change. They were selected, said the White House, for their relentless breaking of barriers and for setting "a standard to which we all should strive." The annual award was created after World War II, when President Truman wanted to honor civilian service during the war.
Kemp, a quarterback-turned-politician, was honored posthumously for the years he spent, leading up to his death in May, raising awareness of and encouraging development in underserved communities. His wife, Joanne (Main) Kemp ’58, accepted the award.
"Jack was most honored to be named by President Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom," Joanne Kemp said. "It was a privilege for me and our family to be present at this event honoring so many people who have made significant contributions in service to others."
“A statesman and a sports icon, Jack French Kemp advocated for his beliefs with an unwavering integrity and intellectual honesty,” Obama said in his citation. “On the football field, he earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his judgment and leadership. As a public servant, he placed country before party, and ideas before ideology. Jack Kemp saw bridges where others saw divisions, and his legacy serves as a shining example for all who strive to challenge conventional wisdom, stay true to themselves, and better our nation.”
After a standout 13-year career in professional football with the Buffalo Bills, Kemp went on to serve nine terms as a Congressman from upstate New York, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the first President Bush and was Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate in the 1996 presidential race. He succumbed to cancer May 2 at age 73.
After today's ceremony, the Kemp family took photos with President and Mrs. Obama. According to Joanne Kemp, she and Obama discussed their alma mater, and the president told her, "Jack was the most famous graduate of Occidental." Joanne said she assured the president that he was the most famous person who had attended Occidental.
Other medal recipients are:
Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Pedro Jose Greer, M.D., medical humanitarian
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist
U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy
Billie Jean King, tennis player and women's sports advocate
Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, author of seminal works in Native American history and culture
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official from a major U.S. city
Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court
Sidney Poitier, actor
Chita Rivera, actor and dancer
Mary Robinson, first female president of Ireland
Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., human geneticist
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Dr. Muhammad Yunus, global leader in anti-poverty efforts and micro-loan pioneer