The remarks of Bette Bao Lord on her retirement from the board of the Freedom Forum
To be honored by the Freedom Forum is awesome. It’s far more cuddly than having a black-eyed baby panda named after me.
To be honored by the Freedom Forum is also alarming. What a fright to speechify to wordsmiths like you. After all, I was an immigrant who didn’t know her ABCs and could only parrot along at P.S. #8 at Brooklyn like this:
“I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America and to the wee puppets for witches’ hands. One Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all.”
Retirement is a time for reflection. I’m so old that I recall a time in Washington when stars shined, hands shook as well as applauded, and sitting side by side at dinner parties were the likes of David and Goliath, Jefferson and Hamilton, Selig and A-Rod, even Lady Macbeth and Lady Gaga. But I promise not to subject you to the recitals of an Indian Ambassador who, before bread could be broken, consistently, individually and endlessly paid tribute to one hundred and fifty guests.
I wish I could pay tribute to every trustee and members of the staff. You deserve boundless praise but surely such praise would bury us all. So with painful restraint, permit me to only muster the old timers dream team with whom I share the longest history.
Al Neuharth is a hallowed name, the keystone and touchstone of this institution. He blazed trails, he relished trials, he ferried us on an unforgettable odyssey that began in 1989 when walls fell and he launched the Freedom Forum. Al was a visionary who dared all to dream and do.
Charles Overby, who transformed an inspired hologram into living flesh and blood, commanding space and glimmering marble.
John Seigenthaler, who figuratively and literally, used his cranium to head the onward march of civil rights.
John Quinn, who converted the tragic loss of a son into fathering thousands of journalists and scholars.
Peter Pritchard, who scaled a dizzying range of mountains, with zest, versatility and good humor.
Madelyn Jennings, who tempered phalanxes of bravado and testosterone, rewarding all with her wise counsel and magic touch.
Along with them we, members of the Freedom Forum family, are as different as sisters and brothers can be, but united in our commitment and celebration of the First Amendment that graces this remarkable edifice.
Always and alas, never more when skies are dreary and America weary, do we believe in:
The freedom of speech, but not just to screech.
The freedom of the press, but not just to impress or depress.
The freedom to assemble, but not just to dissemble.
The freedom to petition, but not just to partition.
The freedom to worship, but never to expel or to enshrine.
These are the tenets of Freedom Forum’s religion.
Though it is time to bid you farewell, I shall forever pledge allegiance to kindred spirits and the Freedom Forum.
Bette Bao Lord is a Freedom Forum Trustee Emerita, author of “In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” and “Spring Moon” among others. In 1998 President Clinton presented her the first Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and hailed her as “someone who writes so powerfully about the past and is working so effectively to shape the future.” She is married to Winston Lord, former Ambassador to China, and they have a daughter, Elizabeth Pillsbury, and son, Winston Bao.