President Shalala Honored with Truman Award

UM President Donna E. Shalala has received the Harry S. Truman Legacy of Leadership Award from the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (April 11, 2014) — In 1948, President Harry S. Truman noted that leaders who ably serve their nation during trying times send a message to future generations: “Do your duty, and history will do you justice.”

More than 65 years later, on the evening of Thursday, April 10, the Harry S. Truman Library Institute that Truman established to inspire young people to embrace that motto and choose paths of service and purpose honored his legacy by recognizing UM President Donna E. Shalala with its Harry S. Truman Legacy of Leadership Award.

In receiving the award at the institute’s annual Wild About Harry dinner in Kansas City, Missouri, Shalala joins an elite group of Americans who have been honored for serving the nation with the same qualities Truman demonstrated: courage, wisdom, foresight, humility and the willingness to be held accountable.

In her acceptance remarks, Shalala, the nation’s longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services who began her distinguished public service career by answering President John F. Kennedy’s call to join the Peace Corps, paid tribute to the nation’s 33rd president, one of her personal heroes. Noting that true leaders don’t calculate political risks when defending American values, she recounted how Truman took on Congress and special interest groups to push for the nation’s first national health plan because it was the right thing to do. After all, she said, he believed that the health of the nation is a national concern and financial barriers should not stand in the way of attaining it.

Truman would not succeed, but Shalala said, he never stopped fighting. Even after he left the White House, he continued to speak out about the need for equality and universal health care, and finally witnessed a seminal victory for his beloved cause. In 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law—at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri—he presented Truman and his wife, Bess, the very first Medicare cards.

Like Truman, Shalala said she suffered scars when in 1993, at the start of her eight years as President Bill Clinton’s health and human services secretary, she supported and worked on the president and first lady Hillary Clinton’s plan for universal health coverage. That, too, failed.

Yet nearly two decades later, Shalala would be among the most sought-after and eloquent voices advocating for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which as she noted Thursday evening in Kansas City, is not perfect, but ensures that soon, most Americans will have adequate health care, saving thousands of lives.

Now UM’s president is officially a member of the elite club of American leaders honored for demonstrating the same qualities as one of her heroes. Past recipients of the Harry S. Truman Legacy of Leadership Award include former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III; former U.S. Senator and Missouri Governor Christopher (Kit) Bond; former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, and retired U.S. Air Force General Richard B. Myers, the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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UM President Donna E. Shalala displays the Truman Award with Clifton Truman Daniel, honorary chairman of the Truman Library Institute and President Truman's eldest grandson (left), and John J. Sherman, chairman of the Truman Library Institute. Photo credit: Mark McDonald

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