Obama to Honor Buffett, George H.W. Bush, Merkel

Obama to Honor Buffett, George H.W. Bush, Merkel
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Pool via Bloomberg

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, former President George H.W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be among this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced today.

The award is the nation’s highest civilian honor and is presented to people who have made meritorious contributions to the U.S. or to world peace. The honorees for 2010 also include poet Maya Angelou, Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a leader of the civil rights movement, and labor leader John Sweeney, the former president of the AFL-CIO.

“These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Buffett, 80, who was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, published a “thank you” letter to the federal government in today’s New York Times, saying the U.S. intervention in the financial crisis stopped many companies from going under, saved millions of jobs and restored calm.

Pledging His Fortune

He is chairman and chief executive officer of Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which has subsidiaries in industries spanning insurance, energy and ice cream. Forbes magazine estimated Buffett’s fortune is worth $47 billion. He’s pledged to donate most of it to the foundation established by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, as well as other philanthropic organizations.

Bush, 86, the 41st president and the father of Obama’s immediate predecessor, was cited for his long service to the country. Before winning the White House in 1988, he was vice president under Ronald Reagan. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, was a U.S. representative from Texas, an ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Merkel, 56, is the first woman to serve as chancellor in Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she progressed in politics as the East and the West joined as a unified nation. She wrote an open letter to Germany today thanking voters for helping the country emerge from the economic crisis. She said she would work to cut spending and protect public finances.

Russell, Musial

Also being honored is Tom Little, an optometrist who was one of 10 medical workers murdered by the Taliban in August as they returned from an aid mission. He and his wife, Libby, had lived and worked in Afghanistan for three decades, according to the announcement.

The other recipients are: sports legends Bill Russell, who played basketball for the Boston Celtics, and former St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial, a member of the baseball Hall of Fame; John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; Gerda Weissmann Klein, who has written several books about surviving the Holocaust; civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez; artist Jasper Johns; and Jean Kennedy Smith, the sister of slain President John F. Kennedy who was U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998.

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