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Public Papers - 1989 - April

Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Gold Medal to Mary Lasker

1989-04-21

The President. Welcome, Mrs. Lasker. Mr. Speaker, it's nice to have you back. Distinguished Members of Congress -- pleased to greet Congressmen Early and Conte and our other friends who are here. And a very special welcome, Tip, to you, sir.

You've heard me talk about a Thousand Points of Light, a metaphor that I've used to celebrate the extraordinary selflessness of Americans who give so much to the service of others. And we're here today to honor a veritable beacon of light, a woman who has focused an enormous amount of energy on finding solutions to life-threatening diseases, Mary Lasker. She's president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which she started with her husband in 1942 to encourage medical research and to raise public awareness of major diseases which cripple and kill. Today the Lasker Foundation's Medical Research Award is one of the most prestigious honors in American medicine.

Mary's contribution to medicine -- they've not stopped with the important work of the Lasker Foundation. Dr. Jonas Salk said: ``When I think of Mary Lasker, I think of a matchmaker between science and society.'' Business Week magazine called her the fairy godmother of medical research. And she's worked extensively in many diverse causes, from supporting cancer research to preventing heart disease to working with those with cerebral palsy -- and believe me, I am only naming a few here. And the list is so long because her good works and tireless efforts are legion.

And I cannot resist a special word of thanks and praise for Mary's leadership here in Washington. Senator Claude Pepper calls Mary the driving force behind the creation of the National Cancer Institute, the first of the National Institutes of Health, and of subsequent institutes. Her generosity and association with NIH continues today. Her work in urging legislation to expand Federal cancer research culminated in a 1971 bill that made the conquest of cancer a national goal. In 1984 Congress honored Mary Lasker by naming a center for her out at NIH: the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education.

Not only is she well-known for advancing medical research but for her contributions to the arts and for her many public plantings that allow others to share her love of flowers. Through the Society for a More Beautiful Capital, she's donated extensive plantings in Washington, including over a million daffodil bulbs for Rock Creek Park and Lady Bird Johnson Park.

Mary, your gifts of health and beauty have left the country very much in your debt. In 1987 it was with gratitude and great pride that the United States Congress voted to honor your humanitarian contributions to the areas of medical research and education, urban beautification, and the fine arts.

Now it is my pleasure to thank you on behalf of the Nation and to present you with this token of our gratitude, the Mary Woodard Lasker Congressional Gold Medal. Congratulations.

Mrs. Lasker. Mr. President, ``thank you'' is much too small a word to describe this honor. Without your help and that of Congress, no success would be possible. This medal belongs to so many people, for the triumph and hope that medical research brought to this country. Mr. President, you know how and why medical research is so important. We look to you now, Mr. President, for leadership in helping to support research at the National Institutes of Health.

Cancer still kills 500,000 people a year in this country -- more people than have been killed in all our wars combined. The strength of our nation depends on the health of our people. This medal recognizes the priority which we must once again place on research. It's good for trade, good for jobs, and vital for all Americans. Medical research is our hope for our children and for the building of a healthy America. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:59 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jim Wright, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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