President Obama honors William Foege, Emory professor emeritus, with prestigious award

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | May 29, 2012

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Jennifer Johnson
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William Foege, professor emeritus in the Rollins School of Public Health, was named a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. Photo by Emory Photo/Video.

In a White House ceremony this afternoon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will honor 13 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, including William Foege, MD, MPH, professor emeritus in Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and a member of the Emory Global Health Institute advisory board.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on C-SPAN at 3:25pm (ET) and online at: http://www.c-span.org/Events/Presidential-Medal-of-Freedom-Award-Ceremony/10737431012/.

The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring.

"These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation,” said President Obama when the winners were recently announced. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award."

Foege is widely recognized as instrumental in the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. After serving as a medical missionary in Nigeria, Foege became chief of CDC's Smallpox Eradication Program and was named CDC director in 1977. In 1984, Foege and several colleagues formed the Task Force for Child Survival (now the Task Force for Global Health), which promotes childhood immunizations and prevents polio, measles, river blindness, and other diseases.

Foege served as executive director of the Carter Center from 1986 to 1992 and joined the Emory faculty as Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health at RSPH in 1997. Two years later, he became senior medical adviser for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He retired from Emory and the Gates Foundation in 2001. He remains a champion of a wide array of issues, including child survival and development, injury prevention, and preventative medicine. Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.

Foege has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2001 Lasker Award, one of the most prestigious honors in biomedical science. He attended Pacific Lutheran University, received his medical degree from the University of Washington, and his Master of Public Health from Harvard University. He holds honorary degrees from numerous institutions, and was named a Fellow of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1997.

The author of more than 125 professional publications, Foege’s recent book, House on Fire (University of California Press, June 2011) tells the story of how smallpox, a disease that killed, blinded, and scarred millions over centuries of human history, was completely eradicated in a spectacular triumph of medicine and public health.

For more information on the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other awardees, please visit:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/04/26/president-obama-names-presidential-medal-freedom-recipients.