Kansas political icon Bob Dole was awarded the 2022 Gerald R. Ford medal for distinguished public service alongside his wife and former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole.
Elizabeth Dole accepted the award on both of their behalf July 1. Bob Dole died in December after battling lung cancer. He was 98.
“Awarding the Gerald R. Ford medal for distinguished public service to two individuals is not the norm,” said Roger Porter, trustee of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. “This year’s award of the medal to Robert and Elizabeth is, however, an understandable and appropriate exception.”
Born and raised in Russell, Kansas, Bob Dole was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968. During his time as a senator, he worked to pass legislation that improved the accessibility of food stamps and school lunches alongside former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, a Democrat.
“This effort expanded school lunch programs; helped establish the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and created a federal assistance program for low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five,” the award citation notes. “With McGovern, the Kansas senator led the effort to simplify eligibility requirements.”
Bob Dole was known for his friendliness and ability to work with anyone regardless of political affiliation, and “the title that meant most to him was veteran,” Porter said.
Before becoming the first female senator to represent North Carolina, in 2002, Elizabeth Dole was the first woman to be appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 1983.
“As U.S. secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole worked with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg and the late Sen. Richard Luger to ensure enactment of the 21-year-old drinking age,” the award citation notes. “At virtually the same time, she issued a landmark regulation, which is credited with widespread enactment of the first state safety belt laws and airbags in cars. These three actions have saved nearly 500,000 lives to date with a projected 20,000 lives saved per year going forward.”
As a political leader for women across the country, Porter said, Elizabeth Dole worked hard behind the scenes, often choosing for concrete accomplishments rather than awards.
“She saw a place for women in the ranks of those who would lead our country and build a land of which we could be proud,” Porter said. “Her healthy ambition, without a trace of arrogance, focused on getting things done, rather than accumulating awards and recognition.”
During her acceptance speech, Elizabeth Dole talked fondly of her late husband, saying the award is “especially meaningful because I share it with Bob Dole, the man who was my soulmate and my own personal Rock of Gibraltar for 46 years.”
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