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Obama to award 16 with highest civilian honor, including El Paso native Sandra Day O'Connor
August 12, 2009

President Barack Obama will recognize the accomplishments of actors, activists and athletes on Wednesday when he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 people.

Written by Associated Press, El Paso Times


Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will recognize the accomplishments of actors, activists and athletes on Wednesday when he awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 people.

Film star Sidney Poitier, civil rights icon the Rev. Joseph Lowery and tennis legend Billie Jean King are among those set to receive the medal, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Other recipients include Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who has been battling brain cancer, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Kennedy will remain on Cape Cod following the death Tuesday of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, but the senator's spokesman said his children will attend the ceremony and his daughter, Kara, will accept the award on his behalf.

Obama, awarding his first presidential medals, also will make posthumous awards to former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, the quarterback-turned-politician who died in May, and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978.

The recipients have diverse backgrounds and achievements in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy. The White House has said the individuals were selected for their work as "agents of change."

President Harry S. Truman established the Medal of Freedom in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II. President John F. Kennedy reinstated the medal in 1963 to honor distinguished service.

The other recipients are:

  • Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a leading breast cancer grass-roots organization.
  • Dr. Pedro Jose Greer Jr., assistant dean of academic affairs at Florida International University School of Medicine.
  • Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and mathematician known for his work on black holes and his best-selling 1988 book "A Brief History of Time." He has been almost completely paralyzed for years and communicates through an electronic voice synthesizer.
  • Joe Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief, who fought in World War II wearing war paint beneath his uniform.
  • Chita Rivera, actor, singer, dancer and winner of two Tony Awards.
  • Mary Robinson, Ireland's first female president and one-time U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
  • Dr. Janet Davison Rowley, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.
  • Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his global, pioneering work extending "micro loans" to poor people who don't have collateral.

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