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Willard Garvey

Earlier this week, you may have seen news clips of Barak Obama conferring the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom upon Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton, among others.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President John F. Kennedy through an Executive Order he signed in July of 1963. It was intended to be America’s highest Civilian Award, with recipients to be personally selected by the President, recognizing individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” 

Among the recipients JFK selected to be honored at White House ceremonies on December 6th, 1963 were author E.B. White, cellist Pau Casalls, photographer Edward Kennedy had been a swimmer at Harvard when Kiphuth was coaching Yale. Swimming helped JFK survive WWII and become the war hero that helped launch his political career. He also swam in the White House pool almost every day to relieve his chronic bad back.

Willard Garvey

Robert Kiphuth receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Johnson on December 6th, 1963.

One can only imagine the conversation and the opportunity to promote swimming that might have resulted from JFK placing the Medal of Freedom around Kiphuth’s neck, had an assassin’s bullet not intervened. 

In December of 1963, construction of the Swimming Hall of Fame was well under way. Both Kiphuth and JFK’s coach at Harvard, Bob Muir, were among our organization’s founding fathers. Could they have cajoled the President into attending our opening ceremonies in 1965?  Might Buck Dawson, Kiphuth, Muir, Counsilman and Haines have convinced him to become Chairman of our Board after completing his second term?   We’ll never know.

One thing we do know is that Kiphuth remains the only recipient of the Presidential  Medal  of  Freedom in  the  fifty years of its existence to be recognized for his contributions to swimming.

Greg LouganisEraldo

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