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Obama honors Patsy Mink with Medal of Freedom

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    President Barack Obama, right, speaks before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. President Obama is presenting the nation's highest civilian honor to 19 artists, activists, public servants and others. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama said this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — including the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii — made the world stronger, wiser, more beautiful and more humane.

Obama praised the 18 artists, activists and lawmakers receiving the award at a White House ceremony on Monday. Among the recipients are Ethel Kennedy, actress Meryl Streep and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder.

Mink was among six people receiving posthumous medals, among them civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were slain in 1964 as they participated in a historic voter registration drive in Mississippi. Other posthumous awards were for choreographer Alvin Ailey and U.S. Rep. Edward Roybal of California, founder of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Born and raised on Maui, Mink was the first female minority elected to Congress where served 12 terms. While in Congress, she co-authored and championed Title IX in 1972, which provided gender equity in education.

“Every girl in Little League, every woman playing college sports, and every parent — including Michelle and myself — who watches their daughter on a field or in the classroom is forever grateful to the late Patsy Takemoto Mink,” Obama said at Monday’s ceremony. “I am particularly grateful because she was my congresswoman for a long time.”

Mink also was the first Japanese-American female attorney in Hawaii and served in the Hawaii territorial and state legislatures beginning in 1956.

“Denied admission to medical school because she was a woman,” Obama said, “Patsy went on to law school and to co-authored Title IX, banning gender discrimination in our schools. Patsy was many ‘firsts’ — including the first woman of color in Congress — and to those of us in Hawaii, she represented the best of public service and the Aloha spirit.

“And if she was a first, she dedicated her life to making sure that she would not be the last. From championing civil rights to … fighting against gender discrimination, Patsy was a passionate advocate for opportunity, equality and realizing the full promise of the American Dream.” 

Mink died in Honolulu in September 2002 at age 74.

Others receiving the Medal of Freedom award Monday included NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, author Isabel Allende and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of Congress who is retiring at the end of the year. 

The list also included Native American activist Suzan Harjo, actress Marlo Thomas, economist Robert Solow, golfer Charles Sifford, former Rep. Abner Mikva of Illinois and physicist Mildred Dresselhaus.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is reserved for individuals who have made “meritorious contributions” to U.S. security, world peace or cultural endeavors.

“This is one of my favorite events,” Obama said from the East Room. “Once a year, we set aside this event to celebrate people who have made America stronger and wiser and more humane and more beautiful with our higher civilian honor.”

Composer Stephen Sondheim was scheduled to receive the award, but Obama said he couldn’t make it and will be included in next year’s class of honorees. 

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