On Thursday, September 21, Lieutenant General Steven W. Gilland ’90, the 61st Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, and the U.S. Corps of Cadets hosted the West Point Association of Graduates in the Cadet Mess Hall at West Point for the presentation of the 66th annual Sylvanus Thayer Award. From its inception in 1958, the purpose of the Thayer Award is to “recognize an American citizen of outstanding character and accomplishments, whose stature in the civilian community draws wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives.”
This year, the West Point Association of Graduates presented the Thayer Award to the Honorable Elizabeth Dole. For more than 50 years, Dole has demonstrated a lifetime of service to this country, as a cabinet member for two presidential administrations, as the president of the American Red Cross, and as a U.S. senator. Furthermore, in 2012 she established The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, leading a movement to raise awareness of the plight that millions of military spouses, parents, and others face in caring for a wounded loved one. Later, as Chair of the VA’s Veterans’ Family, Caregiver and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee, she oversaw dozens of recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs that focused on improving benefits and services for veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors. Her work has resulted in significant veterans’ and caregivers’ eligibility changes, critical benefits for survivors, and the expansion of in-home care opportunities for pre-9/11 war era veterans.
In his remarks prior to the presentation of the Thayer Award, the Honorable Robert A. McDonald ’75, Chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, said, “Having Elizabeth Dole’s name on the Thayer Award plaque and displaying her portrait in the Thayer Award Room of [the U.S. Military Academy’s] Taylor Hall forever associates this great American with West Point and demonstrates to the public the ideals upon which it is built: ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’”
“If we can measure the prestige of an award by its past recipients, then this recognition is humbling indeed,” noted Dole early in her acceptance speech, recalling how the West Point Association of Graduates presented the 2004 Thayer Award to her husband, Senator Bob Dole. The Doles are the only husband and wife to have ever received the Thayer Award. Mrs. Dole related her husband’s experiences as an Army second lieutenant fighting in Italy during World War II to the Corps of Cadets, and she expressed her gratefulness to the generations of American soldiers who joined him in wearing the Army uniform. “I hope the country will join me in finding inspiration from those who share my husband’s most cherished title of ‘soldier,’ especially those soldiers who rise to the mantle of leadership from this esteemed Academy,” she said.
Dole also championed the 5.5 million extraordinary Americans currently serving as a caregiver to a wounded soldier and said that awakening the nation to the crisis facing these military caregivers could halt the divisiveness threatening this country. “We Americans must rediscover our national unity: we must regain our trust in each other,” Dole said to the Corps of Cadets. “Our country’s standing as the world’s greatest democracy depends on its citizens working together.”
Dole concluded her speech by reminding the cadets what it means to be a servant leader—“to confront adversity, make sacrifices, face suffering, and take on the challenges that others find too complicated, too difficult, or too dangerous.” “I know it can sometimes seem that we will never repair the torn fabric of our country,” Dole said; “yet, being in the presence of those who have answered the nation’s call always gives me hope that the seeds of unity and the ideal of committing ourselves to something larger and more lasting remain fertile in America.”
Prior to the ceremony in the mess hall, the Corps of Cadets conducted a review on the Plain in honor of the 2023 Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient. All those gathered to witness the cadets march in formation likely shared in Dole’s optimism for America after watching the review.
February 21, 2023
West Point, NY: The West Point Association of Graduates is pleased to announce that the Honorable Elizabeth Dole will receive the 2023 Sylvanus Thayer Award. The award will be presented on September 21, 2023, during ceremonies hosted by Lieutenant General Steven W. Gilland, Class of 1990, 61st Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
West Point Association of Graduates Board Chairman, the Honorable Robert A. McDonald, Class of 1975, said, “Whether as a government official or as a leader of both national and international non-profit organizations, Elizabeth Dole has been a stalwart for military members and veterans. For example, with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, she has led a movement to raise awareness of the plight that millions of spouses, parents, and others face in caring for their wounded loved ones, and she has led the crusade to generate critical resources to help these hidden heroes. Also, as the former Chair of the VA’s Veterans’ Family, Caregiver and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee, she oversaw dozens of recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs focused on improving benefits and services for veterans’ families, caregivers, and survivors. Her work has resulted in significant veterans’ and caregivers’ eligibility changes, critical benefits for survivors, and the expansion of in-home care opportunities for pre-9/11 war era veterans, which has not only saved lives but also provided the respite and hope that caregivers need to keep their veterans safely at home. Combining this with Dole’s lifetime of service to the country in other ways (as a U.S. senator, a cabinet member for two presidential administrations, and the president of the American Red Cross), it’s clear that she represents the values of West Point: Duty, Honor, Country. I am so pleased that the West Point Association of Graduates is honoring her for her achievements.”
“West Point’s distinguished graduates are some of our nation’s finest examples of, ‘Duty, Honor, Country,’ so it will be my great honor to receive the Thayer Award that reflects their values and patriotic spirit,” said Senator Dole. “I have been inspired by so many of the accomplished servant leaders who have also accepted this award, including my late husband, Bob Dole, just as I continue to be inspired by the bravery and determination of the young Americans who join West Point’s alumni each year, this rising generation of Army leaders.”
West Point, NY
September 21, 2023
GOOD EVENING, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! WHAT A PRIVILEGE IT IS, TO BE WITH ALL OF YOU TONIGHT.
THANK YOU, SECRETARY MCDONALD FOR THOSE VERY KIND WORDS AND FOR YOUR EXTRAORDINARY LEADERSHIP IN AND OUT OF UNIFORM SERVING THIS GREAT NATION. YOU WERE A TRULY TRANSFORMATIVE LEADER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS – ENSURING THAT WE ARE LIVING UP TO PRESIDENT LINCOLN’S PROMISE TO CARE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BORNE THE BATTLE.
GENERAL GILLAND, COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR BARRETTO, WEST POINT ASSOCIATION OF GRADUATES, AND CADETS, THANK YOU FOR THIS TREMENDOUS HONOR. IF WE CAN MEASURE THE PRESTIGE OF AN AWARD BY ITS PAST RECIPIENTS, THEN THIS RECOGNITION IS HUMBLING INDEED!
I REMEMBER HOW THRILLED I WAS WHEN IN 2004, THE ASSOCIATION OF GRADUATES PRESENTED THE THAYER AWARD TO MY LATE HUSBAND, BOB DOLE.
BOB WOULD HAVE BEEN 100 YEARS OLD IN JULY. OVER THE COURSE OF HIS LIFE, HE EARNED A NUMBER OF TITLES – CONGRESSMAN, SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE – BUT NONE FILLED HIM WITH AS MUCH PRIDE AS THE TITLE, “AMERICAN SOLDIER.”
NOW, THAT DOESN’T MEAN THE ARMY WAS AN IMMEDIATE FIT FOR BOB. EARLY ON, HE WAS ASSIGNED TO THE NEWLY CREATED 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION – WHICH WAS DESIGNED TO FIGHT ON HIGH MOUNTAIN PEAKS, IN DEEP SNOW, AND IN BITTER TEMPERATURES. TO FILL ITS RANKS, THE ARMY RECRUITED FUR TRAPPERS, SKI PATROLLERS, WOODSMEN, FOREST RANGERS, AND – MUCH TO BOB’S SURPRISE – A YOUNG MAN FROM KANSAS WHO HAD NEVER SEEN A MOUNTAIN UP CLOSE!
WHEN BOB WAS DEPLOYED TO ITALY, FITTING IN DIDN’T GET ANY EASIER. HIS GRIZZLED SOLDIERS DID NOT GIVE HIM THE WARMEST RECEPTION. BOB EVEN SAW A FEW MEN ROLL THEIR EYES WHEN HE FIRST INTRODUCED HIMSELF. THE BRIGHT-EYED, IMPECCABLY DRESSED SECOND LIEUTENANT WOULD HAVE TO PROVE HIS METTLE.
AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT BOB DID.
RATHER THAN KEEP TO HIS COMMAND TENT, HE ATE WITH HIS SOLDIERS AND SHARED JOKES. AND WHEN IT CAME TIME TO GO OUT ON PATROL, HE DIDN’T POSITION HIMSELF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FORMATION WHERE IT WAS SAFEST. HIS NCO TOLD HIM THAT IS WHERE MOST OFFICERS STAY, BUT BOB SAID, “NO, I’LL TAKE POINT.”
WAS HE SCARED TO DO IT? YOU BET. BUT BOB LATER EXPLAINED, “I DIDN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT LEADERSHIP AT THAT TIME, BUT INSTINCT TOLD ME THAT A LEADER HAD TO BE OUT FRONT. HE MUST BE WILLING TO ENDURE THE FIRE, RATHER THAN HIDE FROM IT OR LET SOMEBODY ELSE TAKE THE BRUNT OF THE BLOWS.”
BOB TRULY LIVED UP TO THAT DEFINITION OF A LEADER. ON APRIL 14, 1945, HE LED HIS PLATOON UP THE HEAVILY MINED SLOPES OF ITALY’S HILL #913. AS THE WORST SCENES OF WAR ENVELOPED THEM, BOB REACHED OUT TO RETRIEVE HIS GRAVELY INJURED RADIO MAN. IN DOING SO, HE SUFFERED DEVASTATING WOUNDS WHICH HOSPITALIZED HIM FOR THREE YEARS AND COST HIM THE USE OF HIS RIGHT ARM.
THOSE INJURIES PRESENTED A LIFETIME OF CHALLENGES FOR BOB, BUT HE REMAINED DETERMINED TO SERVE HIS NATION. HE CLEARLY EMBODIED THE IDEALS AFFIRMED IN WEST POINT’S MOTTO, “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.”
AS BOB’S PARTNER IN LIFE, AND AS A PROUD AMERICAN WHO CHERISHES OUR FREEDOMS, I AM EVER GRATEFUL FOR THE GENERATIONS OF AMERICANS WHO HAVE JOINED BOB IN WEARING THE ARMY UNIFORM. AND I AM IN AWE OF THE OFFICERS WHO HAVE EMERGED FROM THIS PRESTIGIOUS ACADEMY FOR MORE THAN TWO CENTURIES TO LEAD THOSE SOLDIERS WITH WISDOM, CHARACTER, AND REMARKABLE COURAGE.
AS A PUBLIC SERVANT FOR NEARLY 60 YEARS, ONE OF MY MOST PRIVILEGED RESPONSIBILITIES WAS WRITING NOMINATION LETTERS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO ATTEND WEST POINT. I SERVED AS A UNITED STATES SENATOR DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE WARS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN. THE APPLICANTS WHO APPROACHED MY OFFICE OFTEN HAD THEIR PICK OF COLLEGES. YET, THEY WERE MOTIVATED TO SET ASIDE MORE COMFORTABLE LIVES AND RISE TO THE ELITE EXPECTATIONS OF THIS INSTITUTION, SO THEY COULD BE LEADERS IN A TIME OF WAR.
FOR MUCH OF MY LIFE, I FELT I UNDERSTOOD THE SACRIFICES MADE BY SERVICE MEMBERS AND THEIR FAMILIES. I WAS ONLY A YOUNG GIRL DURING WORLD WAR II, BUT MY BROTHER JOHN WAS THIRTEEN YEARS MY SENIOR AND ELIGIBLE TO SERVE. WHEN HE WAS SENT OFF TO THE PACIFIC ABOARD THE WINDOM BAY, MY MOTHER CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTED MY RADIO PROGRAMS TO TURN ON THE NEWS IN HOPES OF BEING REASSURED, IN SOME WAY, ABOUT JOHN. SHE MADE SO MANY TRIPS TO THE MAILBOX THAT I DID MY BEST TO FLOOD HER WITH POSTCARDS WHEN I WENT AWAY TO SUMMER CAMP!
IT WAS JUST 13 YEARS AGO, HOWEVER, WHEN MY EYES WERE FIRST OPENED TO THE CHALLENGES OF SOME VERY SPECIAL MILITARY FAMILIES. BOB WAS HOSPITALIZED AT WALTER REED NATIONAL MILITARY MEDICAL CENTER FOR ALMOST 11 MONTHS, AND I GOT TO KNOW THE YOUNG SPOUSES, THE MOTHERS AND DADS, CARING FOR THEIR WOUNDED WARRIORS COMING BACK FROM IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN.
ONE OF THE CAREGIVERS I MET WAS JESSICA ALLEN. HER HUSBAND, ARMY STAFF SERGEANT CHAZ ALLEN, HAD JUST BEEN EVACUATED FROM AFGHANISTAN AFTER STEPPING ON AN IED. HE LOST BOTH LEGS ABOVE THE KNEES AND SUFFERED SEVERE INJURIES TO HIS RIGHT ARM.
CHAZ REMAINED HOSPITALIZED AT WALTER REED FOR 16 MONTHS, WHILE JESSICA ORGANIZED ALL OF HIS CARE AND BEGAN HOMESCHOOLING THEIR DAUGHTERS SO THEY COULD ALL STAY BY HIS SIDE. AFTER HE WAS ALLOWED TO RETURN HOME, JESSICA COORDINATED THE SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS TO THEIR HOUSE, SERVED AS THE LEAD PARENT, AND MANAGED THE UNENDING MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS AND PAPERWORK.
EVEN AS CHAZ’S HEALTH HAS STABILIZED, HIS FUSED ELBOW MEANS JESSICA WILL ALWAYS HELP HIM WITH SHAVING, BUTTONING HIS SHIRTS, AND PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING REQUIRING TWO HANDS.
IN 2012, I ESTABLISHED THE ELIZABETH DOLE FOUNDATION TO RAISE AWARENESS AND SUPPORT FOR MILITARY CAREGIVERS LIKE JESSICA AND THEIR FAMILIES. ACCORDING TO OUR EVIDENCE BASED RESEARCH, THERE ARE 5.5 MILLION MILITARY CAREGIVERS IN AMERICA; MANY ARE BATHING, FEEDING, AND DRESSING THE SEVERELY WOUNDED; HANDLING MEDICATIONS; ARRANGING DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENTS; AND TRYING TO PREVENT TRIGGERS THAT CAN SET OFF AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE LASTING FOR HOURS.
TOGETHER, THEY ARE AN UNPAID WORKFORCE, PROVIDING $14 BILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF CARE EVERY YEAR.
BUT, MY FRIENDS, THESE EXTRAORDINARY AMERICANS NEVER EXPECTED TO SERVE AS CAREGIVERS. AND OUR NATION HAS NEVER PREPARED THEM, TRAINED THEM, OR PROVIDED THEM WITH ADEQUATE SUPPORT. AS A RESULT, MILITARY CAREGIVERS REPORT ELEVATED RATES OF EMOTIONAL ANXIETY, PHYSICAL ILLNESS, AND CHRONIC PAIN – HIGHER THAN THOSE REPORTED BY CIVILIAN CAREGIVERS. FREQUENTLY, THEY BECOME SOCIALLY ISOLATED AND EXPERIENCE STRAIN WITHIN THEIR FAMILIES.
OVER THE LAST 11 YEARS, MY FOUNDATION HAS LED AN EVOLUTION IN THE WAY AMERICA RECOGNIZES, HONORS, AND SUPPORTS THESE HIDDEN HEROES. THE PROGRESS WE HAVE BEEN PROUD TO MAKE IS CERTAINLY A CREDIT TO THE LEADERSHIP OF OUR CEO, STEVE SCHWAB, AND THE AMAZING TEAM THAT WE ARE BLESSED TO HAVE CARRYING OUT OUR WORK. THOUGH I ALSO GIVE CREDIT TO OUR FOUNDATION’S PHILOSOPHY THAT CARING FOR OUR MILITARY CAREGIVERS IS NOT A REPUBLICAN CAUSE, OR A DEMOCRATIC CAUSE. IT’S NOT SOMETHING FOR ONLY THE FOLKS IN MIDDLE AMERICA TO CARE ABOUT, OR OUR FRIENDS ALONG THE COASTS. OUR FOUNDATION INTENTIONALLY CHOSE TO AWAKEN THE ENTIRE NATION TO THE CRISIS FACING MILITARY CAREGIVERS, AND I AM PROUD TO SAY THAT THE ENTIRE NATION IS RESPONDING.
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS APPROACH ALMOST SEEMS NOVEL TODAY, DOESN’T IT? THE VOICES OF DIVISIVENESS SEEM TO BE DROWNING OUT THE VOICES OF UNITY AND COMPASSION. BUT WE MUST NOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.
WE AMERICANS MUST REDISCOVER OUR NATIONAL UNITY. WE MUST REGAIN OUR TRUST IN EACH OTHER. OUR COUNTRY’S STANDING AS THE WORLD’S GREATEST DEMOCRACY DEPENDS ON ITS CITIZENS WORKING TOGETHER. AND WE CERTAINLY OWE A SENSE OF CIVILITY, ACCORD, AND UNITY TO EACH OF YOU WHO HAS EARNED YOUR PLACE IN THE LONG GRAY LINE.
SO, HOW DO WE BEGIN TO HEAL AS A NATION? I BELIEVE YOU’LL ALL AGREE — IT BEGINS WITH LEADERSHIP AND THE PRECIOUS IDEAL THAT THE TRUEST LEADERS ARE ALSO PUBLIC SERVANTS. IT IS AN IDEAL THAT WAS FORMATIVE TO OUR DEMOCRACY AND
REMAINS CRITICAL TO ITS SURVIVAL.
SERVANT LEADERS ARE NOT DRIVEN BY POWER. THEY ARE DRIVEN BY A CALL TO SERVE. OFTEN, THEY ARE FORCED TO CONFRONT ADVERSITY, MAKE SACRIFICES, FACE SUFFERING, AND TAKE ON THE CHALLENGES THAT OTHERS FIND TOO COMPLICATED, TOO DIFFICULT, OR TOO DANGEROUS.
WITH LITTLE REGARD FOR LEGACY OR PERSONAL GLORY, THEY CARRY OUT THE POINTED WORDS OF PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT, THAT “THERE MUST BE SHAME AT THE THOUGHT OF SHIRKING THE HARD WORK OF THE WORLD.”
ULTIMATELY, SERVANT LEADERS DO WHAT’S RIGHT FOR AMERICA. SYLVANUS THAYER FAMOUSLY BECAME CLASS VALEDICTORIAN AT DARTMOUTH COLLEGE BUT HE NEVER GAVE THE VALEDICTORY ADDRESS. HE HAD LEARNED HE WAS ACCEPTED TO THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY, SO HE SKIPPED THE GRADUATION CEREMONY TO LEAVE FOR WEST POINT. A DECADE LATER, HE RETURNED TO DEVOTE 16 YEARS OF HIS LIFE TO ENSURING THAT THIS INSTITUTION WOULD BE THE WORLD’S FINEST PROGRAM FOR DEVELOPING FUTURE SERVANT LEADERS.
ONE OF THOSE LEADERS, INDEED, WAS GENERAL DWIGHT EISENHOWER, WHO ON THE EVE OF D-DAY, DRAFTED A STATEMENT TO BE RELEASED IF THE INVASION FAILED. IN IT, HE WROTE, “IF ANY BLAME OR FAULT ATTACHES TO THE ATTEMPT, IT IS MINE, AND MINE ALONE.”
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS, THAT IS WHAT GREAT LEADERS DO. THEY DON’T PASS THE RESPONSIBILITY OR BLAME TO SOMEONE ELSE. THEY STAND READY TO MAKE THE HARD DECISIONS, AND TO LIVE WITH FAILURE OR SUCCESS.
I KNOW IT CAN SOMETIMES SEEM THAT WE WILL NEVER REPAIR THE TORN FABRIC OF OUR COUNTRY. YET, BEING IN THE PRESENCE OF THOSE WHO HAVE ANSWERED THE NATION’S CALL ALWAYS GIVES ME HOPE THAT THE SEEDS OF UNITY AND THE IDEAL OF COMMITTING OURSELVES TO SOMETHING LARGER AND MORE LASTING REMAIN FERTILE
I KNOW DURING THIS TIME OF YEAR, GENERAL GEORGE C. MARSHALL’S MOST CELEBRATED WORDS ARE, “I WANT AN OFFICER FOR A SECRET AND DANGEROUS MISSION. I WANT A WEST POINT FOOTBALL PLAYER.”
HOWEVER, STANDING HERE BEFORE YOU, ANOTHER ONE OF HIS QUOTES COMES TO MIND, EXPRESSED IN THE AFTERMATH OF WORLD WAR II. GENERAL MARSHALL SAID, “IT IS TO YOU MEN AND WOMEN OF THIS GREAT CITIZEN-ARMY WHO CARRIED THIS NATION TO VICTORY, THAT WE MUST LOOK TO FOR LEADERSHIP IN THE CRITICAL YEARS AHEAD.” HOW RIGHT HE WAS! AND HOW TRUE THOSE WORDS CONTINUE TO BE.
FOR NEARLY TWO AND A HALF CENTURIES, THE UNITED STATES ARMY HAS BEEN A STERLING EXAMPLE OF THE UNITY THAT FLOURISHES, AND THE GREATNESS THAT CAN BE ACHIEVED, WHEN PROUD AMERICANS COMMIT THEMSELVES TO SERVICE.
WITH EVERY YOUNG AMERICAN WHO PLEDGES AN OATH TO OUR NATION…
WITH EVERY SOLDIER WHO SUMMONS THE COURAGE TO FACE GRAVE THREATS, OR BRING COMFORT TO SCENES OF DISASTER…
WITH EVERY ARMY FAMILY WHO PROVIDES UNENDING SUPPORT TO THEIR SOLDIER AND SERVES AS THEIR CAREGIVER, I SEE THE MAJESTY OF OUR BELOVED NATION AND OUR CAPACITY AND STRENGTH FOR OVERCOMING
THE SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE.
I HOPE THE COUNTRY WILL JOIN ME IN FINDING INSPIRATION FROM THOSE WHO SHARE MY HUSBAND’S MOST CHERISHED TITLE OF “SOLDIER,” ESPECIALLY THOSE SOLDIERS WHO RISE TO THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP FROM THIS ESTEEMED ACADEMY. SINCE 1802, THE UNITED STATES MILITARY ACADEMY HAS ATTRACTED THE BEST OF AMERICA’S RISING GENERATIONS. YOU HAVE EQUIPPED THEM WITH PROFESSIONAL EXCELLENCE AND INSTILLED A COMMITMENT TO LIFELONG SERVICE. AND THEY HAVE EMERGED AS EXAMPLES OF OUR NATION’S FINEST, ADMIRED THE WORLD OVER.
MAY THE WORDS “DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY” TAKE HOLD BEYOND THE
DISTINGUISHED HALLS OF WEST POINT.
MAY THEY THUNDER IN THE EARS OF OUR NATION’S LEADERS AND ECHO THROUGH THE HALLS OF POWER.
AND MAY THEIR REFRAIN SOUND IN EVERY COMMUNITY, EVERY CLASSROOM, EVERY MEETINGHOUSE AND CITY HALL ACROSS THIS GREAT LAND…
NOW AND FOREVER, MAY GOD BLESS THE AMERICAN SOLDIER. AND MAY HE CONTINUE TO BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The 2023 recipient of the West Point Association of Graduates’ Sylvanus Thayer Award, the Honorable Elizabeth Dole, has spent nearly six decades of her life serving the public in both the executive and legislative branches at the federal level as well as leading both national and international non-profit organizations. In particular, as evidenced by The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, she has been a champion for issues that support military members, veterans, and their caregivers.
Dole graduated from Duke University in 1958, receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, a national prize given to graduating seniors, alumni, and faculty of selected colleges and universities in the Southern United States for excellence of character and service to humanity. She later earned an M.A. Ed. from Harvard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Her public-service career began in 1967 when she became a staff assistant to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the Johnson administration.
After a six-year term on the Federal Trade Commission and a two-year term as director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, Dole was the first woman to be appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation, which also made her the first woman to have served as the head of a branch of the U.S. military, as the U.S. Coast Guard was under the Department of Transportation at the time. As the Transportation Secretary, Dole worked to raise states’ drinking ages to 21, issued landmark regulation that brought about state seat belt laws, and endorsed the installation of air bags and center high-mounted stop lamps in new cars. In 1989, she was appointed to be the 20th U.S. Secretary of Labor and made work-place safety and at-risk youth her top priorities.
Dole received national recognition in 1991 when she became the second woman to lead the American Red Cross (the first being the founder of that organization, Clara Barton). During her tenure, she restructured the world’s largest humanitarian organization, transforming the way the Red Cross collects, tests, and distributes half of the nation’s blood supply. Dole announced her departure from the Red Cross in January 1999 and two months later announced her candidacy for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. Two years later, she became the first woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, serving for one term. While a senator, she served on the Armed Services Committee.
In 2012, Dole established Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which was designed to raise awareness and support for the five-and-a-half million young spouses, mothers, fathers, and other loved ones who care for our nation’s wounded warriors at home. Two years prior, her husband, Bob Dole—former Senator from Kansas, 1996 presidential candidate, 1976 vice presidential candidate, World War II veteran, and the 2004 recipient of the Thayer Award—suffered a medical emergency and spent almost a year recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, providing Dole a firsthand account of what it means to be a miliary caregiver. Her work has resulted in significant veterans’ and caregivers’ eligibility changes, critical benefits for survivors, and expansion of in-home care opportunities for pre-9/11 era veterans. The Foundation’s “Hidden Heroes” campaign brought attention to the issues that military caregivers face every day and established a national registry of caregivers that offers helpful resources and support. Dole also served as Chair of the VA’s Veterans Family, Caregiver and Survivor (VFCS) Federal Advisory Committee, during which she oversaw 24 recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs focused on improving benefits and services for veterans’ families, caregivers and survivors. “Through the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, her life work and the VFCS, Elizabeth Dole has been a catalyst for change in the veterans’ community,” notes the director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dole has received numerous awards for her continual support of service personnel and veterans. Most recently, she received the Angel of Honor Award from the Armed Services YMCA, the George Marshall Medal from the Association of the United States Army, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Hiring Our Heroes, the Distinguished Service Medal from the American Legion, the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal from the Department of the Army, and the Military Officers Association of America’s National Service Award.
Gary Sinise, the 2015 recipient of the Thayer Award, says, “Elizabeth Dole’s long history of public service, her support of our military, and her continuing work for military caregivers exemplifies the West Point motto of ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’” Upon receiving the 2023 Thayer Award, Mrs. Dole and her husband will be the only spouses to have received West Point’s highest civilian award, demonstrating the synergy and service of this special couple, and their lifetimes of selfless service.