WASHINGTON (AP/CBS) — President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on more than a dozen prominent Americans–including Chicago icons Ernie Banks and Oprah Winfrey–50 years after the death of the award’s founder, President John F. Kennedy.
Obama honored former President Bill Clinton, Winfrey, and leaders in sports, science and public service in a White House ceremony on Wednesday.
“Early in Oprah Winfrey’s career, her bosses told her, she should change her name to Susie,” Obama said. “I have to pause her to say, I got the same advice. They didn’t say I should be named Susie, but the suggested I should change my name.
“People can relate to Susie. That’s what they said. It turned out people could related to Oprah just fine.”
Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Banks told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine before the ceremony, “I just think about boy, I wish my mom and dad were alive today to see this happen.”
He brought the president a Jackie Robinson baseball bat.
Oprah left Chicago and her signature talk show two years ago, ending a phenomenal 25 year run that took her from unknown to worldwide fame.
Little known was the million dollar gift to Providence Saint Mel on Chicago’s West Side, which averted closing, by the sheer will of the school, its graduates and its community.
And that’s the way it was with any number of things she did in Chicago, without fanfare or publicity.
“I am aware of numerous charities that she has invested in that no-one even knows about,” said St. Mel President Paul Adams. “That’s true charity. I think she feels she’s on this earth to make a difference.”
Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, showed America’s daughters, including his own, that they can set their sights high.
The ceremony opened a day of tributes to Kennedy ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination Friday. Kennedy established the modern version of the medal.