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Obama Presents NRDC Founder John Adams with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Frances Beinecke

Posted February 15, 2011

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Today NRDC Founder John Adams will travel to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. This tribute is a fitting recognition for all that John has done to make America’s air cleaner, our water safer, and our wild places better protected for generations to come.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NRDC co-founder John H. Adams. Photo credit: Anthony Clark/NRDC
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NRDC co-founder John H. Adams. Photo credit: Anthony Clark/NRDC

Carol Browner, the White House adviser on energy and climate, called John a few months ago to tell him about the medal. But rather than pausing to learn why she was calling, John launched into a list of reasons why natural gas companies must not be allowed to ruin the Catskill Mountains in New York State with their dangerous fracking practices.

Browner had to laugh. It was yet another example of how fiercely dedicated John is to protecting the environment. He seizes every opportunity to advocate on its behalf, even—or especially—when the moment is supposed to be about him.

This is what makes John so effective: he is an unstoppable fighter. He is also uncommonly warm and enormously supportive of friends and colleagues. But when it comes to the causes he cares about, he is relentless in their defense. (Today, he has an op-ed in Politico about how nature doesn’t belong to one political party, red or blue; it’s green for all of us.)

John Adams w Lucy (Credit Anthony Clark-NRDC).jpg

He was inspired to start NRDC in 1970 because he was dismayed by the routine destruction of the environment. As he describes in A Force for Nature, the new book he wrote with his wife Patricia, he watched with alarm as his young son woke every morning with soot on his forehead after sleeping next to an open window, and he knew America could do better.

John’s determination to protect Americans from pollution hasn’t waned one bit. Now, 40 years later, he is still fighting for stronger safeguards -- including those that will protect drinking water in the Catskills from toxic fracking fluid.

John has become the senior statesman of the environmental community, long serving and widely revered. Those of us in the field know that John’s four decades of leadership has helped embed the value of environmental protection into American culture. And now, thanks to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, many more will know about John’s remarkable achievements.

All of us at NRDC salute him.

We hope you will join us in congratulating John with your comments below.

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TomFeb 15 2011 09:51 AM

Congratulations to John Adams! What an honor.

debbie walkerFeb 15 2011 10:35 AM

Well done John.
Keep up the good work

Doreatha PennFeb 15 2011 10:56 AM

Thank you John for caring about our Environment which effects all of us. We need more people like you on this earth. You and the few others are rare and precious human beings. Thank you!!! By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Eric YoungFeb 15 2011 11:21 AM

This is a well-deserved honor for John Adams, his family and NRDC (his extended family). I worked at NRDC for 3.5 years and it was a privilege to be a part of what John Adams helped create and lead.

Congratulations John and NRDC.

Godfrey LittleFeb 15 2011 11:39 AM

Congradulations on this honor and Happy Birthday

Clair MenziesFeb 15 2011 01:51 PM

Congratulations. It was a pleasure working with you for nine years. You deserve this award.

Mary HanleyFeb 15 2011 02:12 PM

My sincere congratulations to you John - duly recognized In the pantheon of environmental heroes with Gaylord Nelson and Russ Train.

Chris CalwellFeb 15 2011 02:59 PM

It's a thrill to see that the President defines "freedom" broadly enough to encompass "freedom from harm to the air and water on which life depends." I salute John for his pathbreaking and enduring contributions to securing that freedom for all of us.

Vernice Miller-TravisFeb 15 2011 03:05 PM

Congratulations John, and Happy Birthday! What a great way to celebrate your honored day.
Thanks too for all the battles you fought on behalf of us all, and for all the opportunities you created via NRDC for so many environmental professionals and advocates over the past four decades.

Congratulations for a life well lived!


Alicia J. KlatFeb 15 2011 03:17 PM

Congratulations to you & Patricia. This is thrilling. Thank you for your vision and for having the courage to bring it to fruition. Much love, Alicia
P.S. Happy B'day!

Charles Cinque FulwoodFeb 15 2011 03:21 PM

Congratulations to John on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tom BlasingameFeb 15 2011 03:54 PM

Congratulations on your award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,

I am an equipment designer and for the past 20 years have been working to design locomotives and mobile electric generating sets capable of operating
on fuels other than oil.

First we designed our equipment to
run on solid fuels, because a duck
can stand on a pile of solid fuel forever
with no ill effects, but if he comes in
contact with oil for 15 seconds, he's
a goner.

Then we noticed that combustion
of any kind is hazardous to the
environment, so we redsesigned
ou equipment to meet all of the
Kyoto protocols. But the logistics
of the solid fuels worked against us.

Our current designs use steam for
propulsion, but we generate it with
no gaseous, liquid or solid fuels,
and there will be no emissions of
any kind. It will be interesting to
see if these machines will be acceptable for use in the New
World of Green Power.

Luis G. MartinezFeb 15 2011 04:12 PM

Thanks for all the hard work and dedication. You are an inspiration and a personal hero. Keep it going John, family and NRDC.


Annie NotthoffFeb 15 2011 04:19 PM

Hooray for John and hooray for the planet!

Erika BrekkeFeb 15 2011 04:24 PM

Congratulations, John! I chanced upon watching the ceremony on MSNBC this morning & was overcome by a feeling of overwhelming pride for NRDC and all the incredible work it does. We owe it all to John's vision.

Elizabeth CorrFeb 15 2011 04:28 PM

John, you are an inspiration to us all! Congratulations and happy birthday.

Joel ReynoldsFeb 15 2011 04:34 PM

Congratulations John from all of us in the Los Angeles Office. We all watched the ceremony on the videoscreen in the Morton Conference Room. We're so proud to be associated with you -- an inspiration to us all -- and you looked great on CSPAN w that medal aroound your neck. Not a bad way for you, Patricia, and your entire family to celebrate your 75th birthday.

Doug LeihbacherFeb 15 2011 05:23 PM

Congratulations John and thanks for 41 years of hard work!

JakeFeb 15 2011 05:23 PM

Congratulations, John. Keep up the great work. NRDC is a wonderful organization. Happy birthday as well!

Lynne ShevlinFeb 15 2011 05:30 PM

John, it's been an honor and a privilege working with you all these years. As great an environmental champion as you are, you are even a finer human being. Congratulations to you and your family on this well-deserved recognition. No one deserves it more than you.

Angela CalderonFeb 15 2011 05:54 PM

I feel so honored to know you! The Earth's Honest to God Super Hero!

Raynale TorrisFeb 15 2011 06:38 PM

This is a well-deserved honor for the founder of the NRDC which has grown to be one of the most highly respected environmental organizations in the U.S.
This is a day of celebration not only for John but also for all of us Americans who struggled under the environmental oppression of our previous governmental administration.
My thanks to John and to President Obama for breaking the shackles of that oppression.
May we have many,many, more victories!

Jon DevineFeb 15 2011 07:32 PM

I have been lucky in my career to work for a number of people who treated their employees like family (including my dad, who didn't have a choice in the matter), but those experiences were at places far smaller than NRDC. John, it is amazing how you kept NRDC small and close as we grew, and it has been an honor to know you and to be a part of the NRDC family. Congratulations!!

Mark IzemanFeb 15 2011 07:43 PM

A great day for John and his family -- and the NRDC family!!

Laura GarvineFeb 15 2011 07:50 PM

Way to go Mr. Adams!! I cnnot think of a more deserving person on the planet. Thank you for your tenacity, vision, concern, and love of this planet. Thank you for not only creating an organization that will live for centuries to come, but for being a living example of how to live in cooperation with our planet instead of being at odds with it. Thank you for paving the way and providing an avenue for others to follow in your footsteps and most of all, for using your own special day to shed light on the NRDC and it's importance. To say you are an inspiration does come close to expressing our debt of gratitude. Congratulations and God Bless!

Amy LiptonFeb 15 2011 08:47 PM

Congratulations John, you are a great hero.

Terry JoshiFeb 15 2011 10:03 PM

John - your hometown crowd is bursting with pride and all our emails are buzzing with how much you look like your Dad these days! Time does march on, and I know just how proud he would be of the lasting, courageous work you have done. All the best, Terry

MariaFeb 16 2011 04:42 AM

Please come to Chile with President Obama, we really need you here to convince all those politicians who do not know about how important is the environment rather than the ongoing killing of such rare species vegetables and animals.

Bill RossFeb 16 2011 07:14 AM

Congratulations on receiving this honor. Your southern family is proud of you. You and Patricia are an inspiration to each of us. Thank you for your relentless passion to fight for a healthier, cleaner place to live. I believe your father in law would be gleaming with pride.

Bill Ross

Tom Davidson SrFeb 16 2011 07:40 AM

John is a force of nature, a truly great man who fights for what he believes, a model for us all as we go about our lives. And a fierce halfback on our Duke Law School football team. He raises the bar of life for all of us. Tom Sr

Mahmood AnwarFeb 16 2011 08:18 AM

We are very happy to learn about your role in environment. I have put up some literature from the book for my students to read on the internet. I would love to have you join our organization and help us how to spread the true information about environment and not political games played by Vice president Gore and others. Please read some of my articles under presidents article and comment on my efforts to familiarize the world with environment. My ambition is to get all the environmentally active people to become member of this orbanization and we can plan a program to certify them for coming future in this field.

ChicagoFeb 16 2011 08:29 AM

Thank You John Adams,

You are an inspiration. We are sandwiched between two coal power plants here in Chicago! You inspire me to do more.

Jake SchmidtFeb 16 2011 09:45 AM

Congratulations John. Couldn't have been given to a more deserving person and cause. He definitely helped create a culture at NRDC that inspires dedication, tenacity, and a willingness to be creative to find solutions to the greatest challenges facing humanity.

For such a powerhouse in the environmental movement he has a huge amount of modesty. Even after having received a personel award from the President he passes around the award to the NRDC staff and says this is yours as much as it is mine.

Bianca ConstanceFeb 16 2011 02:47 PM


PattBFeb 16 2011 02:47 PM

Congratulations to John! I am proud of the organization and know I can count on them for results! That's why I am a supporter.

lisa gillingFeb 16 2011 02:52 PM

Thank you John,

you are the environments super hero and you also inspire me and my family to do our share . Thanks so much. I will continue to support the NRDC.

Laurel BlossomFeb 16 2011 03:17 PM

So happy for John and NRDC! A great honor, terrific publicity for your work, and SO WELL DESERVED!! May this award bolster everybody's pride and courage for the fights ahead!

Laura MatikaFeb 16 2011 03:35 PM

John, I want to congratulate you and deeply thank you for your commitment to the well-being of our amazing planet, to us, and our fellow inhabitants! I am truely moved by your willingness to take on the enourmous task of protecting our Earth with a strong sense of belief and unstopability. You are a real world leader! And you can always count on me to support the efforts of NRDC!

Karen LondonFeb 16 2011 03:41 PM

A much deserved honor! Congratulations to Mr. Adams, his wife and Ramsay. And thank you, Mr. Adams, for using even the occasion of your call from Ms. Browner to express the wrong-headedness of hydraulic fracturing as the answer to our country's energy needs! We are all indebted to your lifetime of service.

Doris Nagel SullivanFeb 16 2011 04:12 PM

You do Roscoe proud!

John EspositoFeb 16 2011 04:14 PM


You have been my hero for decades...for many years before I had the good fortune to meet you. You deserve this honor and so much more for being THE leader in stewardship of our planet. You continue to inspire me and millions. Let's go get more done!



Dan WalkerFeb 16 2011 05:22 PM

Congratulations to you and Pat. Your Mom and Dad would be very proud. i am in the middle of reading you book and find it facinating.

DiMatteoFeb 16 2011 05:30 PM

Your efforts have been indispensable in both defending the environment and planning for the future, as well maintaining the funding for such protections and planning. You deserve this as much as anyone.

eleanor thomasFeb 16 2011 06:20 PM

Congratulations - let's hope your example is followed by many others now that this Medal of Freedom has been bestowed on someone in the environmental and animal defense movement. If the President stands by his words at his inauguration, your example should be one that he is following. Thanks for all you do and have done - we truly need people like you.

Maneck ChichgarFeb 16 2011 06:45 PM

Dear John:

Thank you for the many years of service to our country and the environment. CONGRATULATIONS !! from a fellow environmentalist. Onward and upward..


Nicolas FerlaFeb 16 2011 07:26 PM

I attended last year a meeting with John Adams and Patricia Adams at Duke University. As a Duke LLM Student I wanted to say that John's work is truly inspiring and I congratulate him for all of his achievements.
Nicolas (from Argentina)

Michele MullerFeb 16 2011 07:27 PM

Congratulations John. It is the work of tireless people like you that give hope to this world. Keep up the good work. Such an honor and you deserve it.

Deron LovaasFeb 16 2011 08:14 PM

Congratulations, John. You're a world-class advocate, steadfast ally of the environment and a down-to-earth guy to boot. Truly a rare class act and a model for all, especially those of us who have enjoyed the privilege and pleasure of working at NRDC.

michael mcmackinFeb 16 2011 08:15 PM

Congratulations John, Unfortunately in my area of the United States people in my community are fighting against the industrialization of Pennsylvania and New York by the natural gas industry.Are most precious resource fresh water is being contaminated by an out of control and unregulated industry. The Deleware river and the surrounding water shed is under attack by withdraw and contamination. All of New Yorks upstate pristine water supplies are also under attack from greed and corruption. As much as you may enjoy your presidential medal of freedom presented to you by President Barack Obama,the people of the northeast region of the United States strongly need your help in stopping the gas industry from destroying are fresh water supplires and the environment. Please help us. Support banning horizontal hydro fracking in our region. Thank you Michael McMackin

WendyFeb 16 2011 09:05 PM

Well deserved!

Dr. Ron and Paulette TatumFeb 16 2011 09:12 PM

Congratulations to the deserving John Adams and his great organization. We hope this is not just a token award, but means the continued protection of the environment by President Obama's government. We know John Adams and NRDC will keep fighting no matter what.

Mike ShawFeb 16 2011 11:11 PM

What great recognition for a wonderful life! All accomplished by passion and by simple down to earth integrity, fortitude and amazing, non-stop good will. John, of all our contemporaries I have lways admired you far and away the most, and feel lucky to be your friend.

KarinFeb 17 2011 08:12 AM

Thank you for being such a strong force and leader for caring and proecting this earth we were so kindly given to share!!!!!

Judith Burgevin-JohnsonFeb 17 2011 08:32 AM

Congratulations to the founder and leader of one of the world's finest organizations for environmental support.
Thank you, John and Patricia and the NRDC for all you
have done and do. What a well deserved award!

Pat Johnston MontgomeryFeb 17 2011 08:41 AM

Hi John & Patricia: As one of your many cousins from George's family, we are very proud of your accomplishments. You are a credit to your family and your country. Congratulations. Pat Montgomery

Natasha BermanFeb 17 2011 09:00 AM

Congrats, John! And, thank you for being a force for nature and making this world a better place. I am so grateful.

Jim SalzmanFeb 17 2011 09:04 AM

While it may not lead to immediate results, I'm just as impressed and grateful for your dedication to training the next generation of environmental advocates. You've done Duke Law proud!

Tim DonnellonFeb 17 2011 09:32 AM

Congratulations, John. Well deserved - loved reading the book and learning the whole NRDC story - " If the planet has a lawyer, it's John Adams."

Patricia Johnston MontgomeryFeb 17 2011 10:36 AM

Hi John and Patricia: As one of your many cousins, from George’s family I want to let you know how proud we are of your accomplishments. You are a credit to your family and to your country. Congratulations. Pat Montgomery

John Conway Sullivan County HistorianFeb 17 2011 11:15 AM

Thank you, John, for keeping up the fight to protect our beautiful county and the surrounding region.

Millie BankertFeb 17 2011 12:03 PM

Congratulations John.........we go back a "few" years and you sure have come a long way!...........very proud of your endeavor..........

John NoelFeb 17 2011 03:24 PM


My congratulations and sincere thanks for you courage and commitment to our planet and people. Well deserved !

CandyFeb 17 2011 05:11 PM

Congratulations John! You & the tireless daily work of others in the NRDC make me proud to support the NRDC! Keep up the great work!

Susan Fenn McClenFeb 17 2011 08:26 PM

Congratulations! Your Connecticut Johnston cousins are very happy for you.

Cheryl KenneyFeb 18 2011 12:01 AM

Congratulations! Thank you for your hard work and leadership.

Jan HammettFeb 18 2011 12:58 PM

Congratulations, John!
Well deserved!!

Sandy SandlinFeb 18 2011 03:25 PM

Thank you. With all my heart.

John RobertsFeb 18 2011 06:13 PM

Thank you John for all your presistance in trying to protect our environment and wild life. Big industry throughout the world just does not seem to get it. Like you I am extermly worried about fracking here in Pennsylvania. I guess we really don't know what is going to happen to our ground water and the major water sheds like the Deleware and probably will not for years to come. Also with the current change in Congress, I feel that the rules will get even more watered down in the name of creating more industry and jobs. How can we really fight what is already happening in this type of climate. There are so many in our own government who don't believe in evolution far less global warming and the effects of air and water polution. The ignorance and arrogance is really a sad thing. What can I do to help?

Julie DunlapFeb 19 2011 09:43 AM

Congratulations on your award and your wonderful book. I wasn't aware of your personal role in NRDC's incredible history of accomplishments but am so grateful that you and your wife have done so much on behalf of our natural environment and human health.

I hope that you will turn some of your energies to the fiscal problems we are now confronting and focus on breaking the 1872 mining law that allows private polluters to reap grand profits from our nation's treasured wildlands. Please fight to increase our public financial benefits--by orders of magnitude--from extractive industries using our public lands. That archaic law is one of the reasons our environment is decaying while international corporations are thriving.

Thank you again for all of your important work. I can't wait to see what you accomplish next!

David KalinerFeb 19 2011 05:15 PM

Congratulations to NRDC Founder John H. Adams on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. NRDC is a marvelous organization, and I'm glad to learn that Mr. Adams was recognized with this honor on behalf of the work he's done to help the environment.

peggy nicholsonFeb 20 2011 05:15 PM

those of you who are not at the top in nrdc or any other large environmental group may want to do a little research on just what it is you are supporting here. please.

thank you.

Lionel MaresFeb 21 2011 12:50 PM

Congratulations Mr. Adams! A job well done!

John G. LileFeb 21 2011 05:12 PM

Thanks for all you have done for all people> Your dedicated efforts were deservedly acknowledged by your medal award. Congratulations!
From your law school classmate, John Lile

LisaFeb 21 2011 08:09 PM

Wonderful that someone who has done something really great for everyone else wins this medal. People like you give us hope for a better world.

Christine EndresFeb 24 2011 04:18 PM

Congratulations...your accomplishments are many and recognition is well deserved.

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