President Barack Obama said billionaire Warren Buffett and 14 other people awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom today “reveal the best of who we are and who we aspire to be.”
Buffett is “not only one of the world’s richest men,” he is “one of the most-respected,” Obama said during a ceremony in the White House East Room.
Former President George H.W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, poet Maya Angelou, and Democratic Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a leader of the civil rights movement, are among today’s recipients. Sports legends Stan Musial, of baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, and Bill Russell, of basketball’s Boston Celtics, also were honored.
The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor and is presented to people who have made worthy contributions to the U.S. or to world peace.
Buffett, 80, who was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, 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 $45 billion.
Buffett has pledged to donate most of his wealth to the foundation established by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, as well as other philanthropic organizations. Obama said Buffett “uses his stature as a leader to press others of great means to do the same.”
No Fancy Ties
The president said Buffett doesn’t wear “fancy ties” or drive “fancy cars.” Instead, “you see him devoting the vast majority of his wealth to those around the world who are suffering, or sick, or in need of help.”
Obama said Buffett is “so thrifty” that the last time he came to the White House Obama gave the billionaire a new tie because the one he was wearing was “looking a little shredded.” The president joked that “when Bill Gates came, he wanted one, too.”
Bush, 86, the 41st president and the father of Obama’s 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.
Obama also honored cellist Yo-Yo Ma, 55, and joked that while Ma was a “late bloomer” -- beginning his concert career when he was 5 years old, “he went on to record over 75 albums and win 16 Grammies.”
Obama said that Merkel, 56, “broke barriers” when she became the first woman and the first person from the former East Germany to serve as German chancellor. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she progressed in politics as the East and the West joined as a unified nation. Merkel didn’t attend today’s ceremony. Obama said she would soon be coming to the White House for an official visit.
“To America, Chancellor Merkel and the country she leads are among our closest allies,” he said. “To me she’s a trusted global partner and a friend.”
Also honored was 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 were: labor leader John Sweeney, the former president of the AFL-CIO; John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council; 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.