Gov. Whitmer to receive courage award from Kennedy Library Foundation

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is one of seven people who will be honored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for risking their own health and safety to protect others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation set up in honor of the former Democratic president announced a set of special Profile in Courage Awards on Tuesday. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, will present the awards in a May 26 virtual ceremony. 

“These heroes went above and beyond for their community and our country, and remind us that we all can make a difference if we answer the call to serve,” Schlossberg said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

In addition to Whitmer, Dr. Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio health department, and Lauren Leander, an intensive care nurse in Arizona, are among the other honorees.

The first-term Democratic governor has gained national attention for her aggressive response to COVID-19. In the early months of the pandemic, she imposed strict policies to limit gatherings and outings as Michigan ranked among the top states for cases and deaths linked to the virus.

She also faced protests against her executive orders. In October, federal agents revealed they had uncovered a plot to violently overthrow the government and kidnap and harm Whitmer.

“The men were said to be motivated at least in part by anger and resentment over pandemic restrictions,” the Kennedy foundation said in a press release. “Despite violent threats against her life, Whitmer did not back down.

“She stayed focused on following the science and listening to public health experts to get the pandemic under control and start rebuilding Michigan’s economy.”

Whitmer said it is an honor “accept this prestigious award on behalf of every Michigander who stepped up to help their family and community through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We must all strive to live up to the call of public service put forward by President Kennedy decades ago and exemplified by the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic who are putting shots in arms and working tirelessly in schools, stores and hospitals statewide,” she added.

The Michigan Republican Party criticized Whitmer’s selection, noting that the state has led the nation in new COVID-19 cases per population for more than a month, according to tracking by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Thousands of small businesses shut down, hundreds of thousands of children lost out on a proper education and millions of Michiganders had their livelihoods upended — not because of COVID — but because of Whitmer’s response,” said Ted Goodman, the Michigan GOP’s spokesman.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service and celebrate his May 29 birthday, according to a press release.

The foundation previously announced that U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, will receive this year’s Profile in Courage Award for his vote to convict former President Donald J. Trump during the 2020 impeachment proceedings.

cmauger@detroitnews.com