Wife of Dr. Little receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Reported by: Paul Merrill

Videographer: J. Ficurilli
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Updated: 2/16/2011 9:32 pm


It was an emotional embrace and an exchange of whispers between Libby Little and President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday.

"I said, 'thank you' and I think he said back to me it was his honor," said Libby Little.

President Obama honored Mrs. Little with the Presidential Medal of Freedom because of the humanitarian work that she and her late husband, Dr. Tom Little, did half a world away.

"We love our country and we never imagined that working in obscurity in Afghanistan would receive this level of recognition," said Libby Little.

The recognition came after Dr. Little's life came to a violent end last summer when he and nine other aid workers were ambushed and murdered in Afghanistan. Ironically, that horror drew attention to the work that the Littles had been doing in that country for decades.

For 30 years, the Delmar optometrist and his wife provided free medical care to the people of Afghanistan.

Of the 15 Medal of Freedom recipients being honored in the East Room of the White House, Tom Little was the only one being honored posthumously.

Tuesday's other honorees include former President George H.W. Bush, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and basketball legend and activist Bill Russell.

Mrs. Little sat between civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Yo-Yo Ma.

"Yo-Yo Ma is such a gentleman - such a gracious man!" said Mrs. Little.

They are unlikely company for an Upstate New York optometrist who avoided the spotlight.

While the Littles still don't know who nominated Dr. Tom Little for the Medal of Freedom, they know he would have been privileged.

"He would be honored in a very shy, humble way," said Fred Little.

"We certainly didn't set out for awards or this kind of thing and still aren't so it's taken us by surprise. And I know Tom would feel great honor, receiving this award from the President of the United States," said Libby Little.

And while the Littles may have felt a bit out of place at the White House, it's tough to find a better example of a life of service and sacrifice than that of Dr. Tom Little.

The president summed it up with a line from scripture, "greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."

To donate to the Tom Little Memorial Fund, contact Interserve USA; P.O. Box 418; Upper Darby, PA 19082 or visit the organization's web site at www.interserve.org.

Libby Little stands with President Obama.
Libby Little stands with President Obama.

The wife of a slain Delmar optometrist was honored by President Obama at the White House Tuesday. Libby Little stood alongside other giants of service and sacrifice during an emotional ceremony.

Dr. Tom Little gave his life to provide medical treatment to the people of Afghanistan. He was killed when his team of doctors was ambushed last summer during an aid mission.

On Tuesday, Little was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The moving ceremony was in a very intimate setting in the East Room of the White House. Fifteen people received the nation's highest civilian honor for their contributions to society, Dr. Little was the only one to receive an award posthumously.

An announcer at the White House said the following as President Obama wrapped his arm around Libby Little, "Dr. Thomas Little was an optometrist who devoted his life and skills to help those in need. Starting in the 70's Dr little and his wife lived largely in Afghanistan in order to provide vision care to the people of that nation. Even as they dedicated their lives to healing others Dr. Little and nine of his team members were murdered in Afghanistan in 2010. Our nation mourns the loss of these humanitarians who paid the ultimate price in the pursuit of their ideals."

Members of the little family tell FOX23 News they are honored and humbled. They described the day as a surreal experience.

FOX23 spoke with Tom's wife Libby Little on the White House lawn.

"I'm proud of my husband," she said. "I think to God be the glory that you can just do your work in an ordinary way, it's the glory of God, and the president recognizes it. It was quite an emotional moment."

The other honorees include former President George Herbert Walker Bush, Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, and Yo-Yo Ma.

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dickthwiener - 11/7/2011 7:36 PM
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I can't believe there are no comments on this article. What the hell is wrong with you FOX23 News readers? -r
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