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Lifelong activist Harris L. Wofford, who first visited the White House to keep a lunch date with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, will again walk the hallowed halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on Friday, when he collects his latest award, the Presidential Citizens Medal.
The Pennsylvania Democrat was appointed to the Senate in 1991 by Gov. Bob Casey, filling the vacancy left by the sudden death of Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., who died in an airplane crash. Wofford won the special election that fall and served until 1994; his re-election bid was thwarted by Rick Santorum, then a rising GOP star, who was swept into office during that cycle’s Republican revolution.
With his tour on Capitol Hill complete, Wofford continued his career in public advocacy by contributing to various volunteer-related entities, including the Corporation for National and Community Service (served as CEO), America’s Promise Alliance (co-chairman) and Youth Service America (board member). He also worked on President Barack Obama’s campaign, advising on community engagement issues.
Wofford’s latest accolade — he’ll be feted alongside 12 other distinguished public servants, and a posthumous award will be given to honor a half-dozen educators who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings — caps a career that began when he volunteered to serve in World War II. Along the way, he also worked as an adviser to President John F. Kennedy, did a stint in the Peace Corps and was president of both the State University of New York at Old Westbury and Bryn Mawr College, among other highlights.
Incidentally, first lady Michelle Obama was named the YSA public service award winner in 2011. The YSA created the Harris Wofford Awards in 2002 to honor other public servants, sweeping public officials into the mix in 2009 and giving educators their due as of 2012.