John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the First International Awards Dinner of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation

December 06, 1962

Governor, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express our thanks to all of you for attending this dinner this evening, particularly to the Governor for his generosity in being the toastmaster tonight, and for his emphasis on the work which the foundation has done. We are very appreciative to Miss Garland, our old friend, and to Mr. Lancaster, for coming, and also to all of you.

A year ago we had come to the White House two young ladies. They were the girls who had been chosen by the National Association for Retarded Children. One was 7 and the other was 5. They were both blondes, very pretty--sisters. One, the older girl, was mentally retarded. The younger girl, 5, suffered from the same difficulties at birth that the older girl had suffered from, but in the 2 years intervening between the birth of her older sister, research had made possible some great new discoveries which brought about a change in diet which made it possible for the younger girl to live a happy and fruitful life, while the older sister, who would have had the same opportunity if the discovery had only been made 2 years earlier, lives a life in the shadows for the rest of her life.

A more dramatic example to me, and to really any American who could have seen the two girls, I don't think could have made more important the cause which has brought us all together tonight.

Really, any childhood sickness is bound to affect any adult, but any childhood sickness which goes on through life, without any hope of recovery, is bound to be the most deadly of all burdens which any person must carry and which their families must carry. So that this is a matter which should concern us all as citizens.

We have just had a report of the committee headed by Dr. Mayo, and I was shocked to see that in Scandinavia, for various reasons dealing with environment and dealing with prenatal care, postnatal care, the amount of mentally retarded in the population, the children born, is 1 percent. In this rich, prosperous country of ours it's 3 percent.

It shows what can be done, and I think that for too long this has been a field which has been left to a few dedicated people. It has been hidden under social disadvantages. Years ago it was considered a mark against the parents. It was really a disease or a difficulty or a challenge to which few people gave their attention. Now we hope that it will come out into the bright light and will be given the same sort of attention as cancer and heart disease and all the rest which afflict our people, but which afflict in many cases adults, particularly elderly people. Their troubles, while serious, are not as devastating as those which mark a child at birth and continue with the child to the end of the trail.

So we are very grateful to all of you for your interest in coming tonight. We are particularly glad to welcome the young students who we hope will be the authors of new discoveries. We are particularly glad to welcome those who won these awards.

I can't imagine anything more satisfying to the people who work in this field than to realize that as the result of the effort of one man or woman in their life they have made it possible for a hundred or a thousand or twenty thousand children living in this country, or in some other country, to live a fruitful life which would not have been won without their patient and tireless work. So their work is their own reward.

We hope that by bringing it to public attention tonight it will cause others to enter this field. This has really been a field which has been relatively ignored. Now we hope to put a greater light on it in this country, and in other countries around the world. It knows no national frontiers. I hope that in the 1960's these years will be known as years in which the United States took the leadership in the great effort to make it possible to discover what we can do to make these boys' and girls' lives more hopeful and fruitful.

We are indebted to all of you for helping. We have the six award winners. They represent four nations. I am delighted with that because I do think it emphasizes the international challenge which faces us all. We would like to have them come forward and to accept these awards.

[At this point the President made the presentations. He then resumed speaking.]

To show you how new this field is that we are talking about and how important every discovery is, is the fact that my sister Eunice wrote an article for a well known national magazine last summer--the Saturday Evening Post--and in the course of it she described the work that Dr. Folling had done, and this test. She received a letter some weeks later from a woman in Brooklyn who said that she had noticed in her newly born baby the fact that she seemed to have this reaction, and she had gone to her doctor and the doctor had said he was sure that the baby was all right. The mother had persisted and had gone to a clinic for the mentally retarded and had learned that the child was suffering from this affliction. And as it was within the first 6 weeks, immediate steps were taken and the child is going to be all right.

So I must say that all these experiences which indicate the close, hairline difference between a life in the sun and one in the shadow makes us all most grateful to the men that we honor tonight.

Note: The President spoke at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Washington. His opening words referred to Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations and former Governor of Illinois, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. During his remarks he referred to Judy Garland and Butt Lancaster, stars of the motion picture "A Child Is Waiting" which was previewed following the dinner; Dr. Leonard W. Mayo, Chairman of the President's Panel on Mental Retardation; and Mrs. Sargeant Schriver, the President's sister and executive vice president of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation.

The award winners, chosen from 400 nominees from 26 countries were: the National Association for Retarded Children, for its role in awakening the nation to the problem of mental retardation; Dr. Samuel A. Kirk, Director, Institute for Research on Exceptional Children, University of Illinois, "for his vision, inspiration, dedication, and outstanding services in mental retardation;" Dr. Ivar Asbjorn Folling, retired chief of the University Hospital Clinic Laboratory, Oslo, Norway, for his discovery of the disease, phenylketonuria; Dr. Murray L. Barr, head of the Department of Microscopic Anatomy, University of Ontario, for his discovery of sex chromatin; Joe Hin Trio of Indonesia, visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., for his discovery of the exact number of chromosomes in man; and Dr. Jerome Lejeune, Director, Department of Genetics, University of Paris, for his discovery of chromosomal abnormality in mongolism.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the First International Awards Dinner of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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