ANDERSON, Ind. —
Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday in Washington, the crowning achievement to a life dedicated to public service.
It is an award Lugar's former staff members said is well deserved for a man who has done so much for his state and country.
"It couldn't have gone to a better man," said Pat Kiely, president of the Indiana Manufacturer's Association.
Kiely's relationship with Lugar goes back to 1974 when he served on Lugar's first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Kiely also served as a state representative for Madison County for many years and worked closely with Lugar's office.
"Sen. Lugar is someone who served in an honorable fashion," Kiely said. "The more you get to know him, the more you respect him."
Lugar's legacy goes beyond just his work on a national level, Lou Gerig said. Gerig was a press secretary for Lugar from 1977-80. He left in 1980 to work for the Reagan administration.
He told a story of how Lugar personally called him a year ago when Gerig's mother passed away. Even after all those years, Lugar still cared enough to call him and share his condolences.
"Once you work for Sen. Lugar, you never stop working for him," Gerig said. "He was a mentor to so many of us."
Gerig thought the most telling sign of Lugar's character came in 1996 when Lugar ran for president. Members of the press called Gerig and other former workers asking what working for Lugar was really like.
"They were looking for dirt," Gerig said. "And I told them 'You won't get anything from me.' There was no dirt to be had on Lugar."
The former senator, whose 35-year career as a member of Congress ended after he was defeated by Richard Mourdock in the 2012 Republican primary, was among 16 prominent Americans President Barack Obama honored with the Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian can receive.
Obama paid tribute Wednesday to former President John F. Kennedy's legacy, who established the modern version of the medal, but was assassinated two weeks before he planned to honor the first group of recipients.
"Today, we salute fierce competitors who became true champions," Obama said, pausing to speak in personal terms about each of the recipients and their contributions to society.
The leaders honored in Washington ran the gamut from sports and entertainment to science and public service. Former President Bill Clinton, astronaut Sally Ride and Oprah Winfrey also were among the recipients.
Darlene Superville of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Medal of Freedom recipients President Barack Obama honored 16 prominent Americans on Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award the U.S. gives a civilian: -- Bill Clinton, the 42nd president, who was also recognized for his post-presidency humanitarian work -- Oprah Winfrey, broadcaster, actress, activist and philanthropist --Daniel Inouye, former senator from Hawaii, World War II veteran and the first Japanese American in Congress. Inouye received the award posthumously. -- Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper's coverage of Watergate -- Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Ride received the award posthumously. -- Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana who worked to reduce the global nuclear threat --Gloria Steinem, writer and prominent women's rights activist -- Ernie Banks, baseball player who hit more than 500 home runs and played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs -- Bayard Rustin, civil and gay rights activist and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin received the award posthumously. -- Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics -- Loretta Lynn, country music singer -- Maria Molina, chemist and environmental scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry -- Arturo Sandoval, Grammy-winning jazz musician who was born in Cuba and defected to the U.S. -- Dean Smith, head coach of University of North Carolina's basketball team for 36 years -- Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and became the court's chief judge -- C.T. Vivian, civil rights leader and minister