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Ruckelshaus Center namesake receives 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom

William D. Ruckelshaus.
William D. Ruckelshaus.

President Barack Obama announced that on November 24, William “Bill” D. Ruckelshaus will receive the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House.

The award is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public endeavors. The award, a supreme civilian decoration, recognizes Bill’s outstanding service to our nation and unending dedication, integrity and achievement in his public, professional and personal life.

“The Center is honored to benefit from Bill’s visionary influence, strong principles, and exemplary conduct—both now, and throughout his remarkable career,” said advisory board vice chair and JP Morgan Chase Northwest chairman, Phyllis Campbell.

As founder and chairman of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, Ruckelshaus provides oversight and guidance for the center’s work. The center is hosted at Washington State University by WSU Extension and the University of Washington at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.

Alongside other members of the center’s advisory board, Ruckelshaus advocates for using university resources to establish neutral forums for addressing the Pacific Northwest’s most complex and pressing challenges.

“All of us affiliated with the Ruckelshaus Center agree that no one is more deserving of this honor than Bill Ruckelshaus,” said Michael Kern, the Center’s Director. “Every interaction with Bill is a lesson in integrity, leadership, creativity, intelligence and humor.”

As the first director of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 Ruckelshaus was a pioneer. His first order of business was the successful ban of the use of DDT as a pesticide in the United States. He was also instrumental in selecting the agency’s leaders, defining its mission, and establishing its organizational framework.

His sound leadership in these pursuits led to him being appointed by President Richard Nixon as Acting Director of the FBI and then Assistant Attorney General, a position from which he famously resigned during the “Saturday Night Massacre” when Ruckelshaus and his boss, Elliot Richardson, refused Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

After leaving that post, Ruckelshaus resumed his law practice and then moved to Seattle in 1973 to take a position as Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs for the Weyerhaeuser Company. At the request of President Ronald Reagan he returned to lead the EPA in 1983 in order to realign the agency with its original mission and restore its credibility in the public eye.

Since then, Ruckelshaus has held a number of other notable positions including Chairman and CEO of Browning Ferris Industries, US Envoy under President Bill Clinton in the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, member of the United States Commission on Ocean Policy under President George W. Bush, Chairman of the Shared Strategy for Salmon Recovery in Puget Sound and the Puget Sound Partnership, and Co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative and Washington Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Ocean Acidification. He is currently a strategic director at Madrona Venture Group.

Other 2015 Medal of Freedom recipients include founding Ruckelshaus Center Advisory Board member Billy Frank, Jr, who (until his passing last year) was a tireless advocate of tribal rights and environmental protection. Frank was also a key figure in the 1974 “Boldt decision” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the State of Washington.

For more information, visit the Ruckelshaus Center website at

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