August 5, 2009--Former Illinois representative and House Minority Leader Robert H. “Bob” Michel was selected as the Society’s 2010 recipient of the Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award, the Society’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee announced on August 5. In a letter to Mr. Michel announcing his selection, ASBMB President Greg Petsko said:
"ASBMB offers you this award not only in recognition of your many years of service in the Congress of the United States, but also to recognize your efforts over the past decade to increase public and congressional support for the National Institutes of Health. Your work during and after the campaign to double the size of the NIH budget was carried out in the true spirit of public service which the Schachman Award strives to recognize. Your tireless advocacy for NIH, particularly during a time of great stress on the federal budget, was instrumental in the successful completion of the doubling campaign."
Mr. Michel was born and raised in Peoria County Illinois. His public service began at an early age, when he served during World War II as a combat infantryman with the Thirty-ninth Infantry Regiment in France, Belgium and Germany. He was wounded by machine gun fire during his combat tour and was awarded the Purple Heart and two Bronze Star medals.
Upon his discharge from military service in 1946, he received a bachelor’s degree from Bradley University, in Peoria, and his public service continued when he served as administrative assistant to the district’s congressman, Harold Velde, from 1949 to 1956. He was elected as a Republican to the seat held by his old boss in 1957, and served eighteen consecutive congresses—a total of 36 years—finally deciding not to run for reelection at the conclusion of the 103rd Congress in 1994. Mr. Michel served as his party’s leader in the House of Representatives from the 97th through 103rd Congresses.
However, it was after his service in the Congress when biomedical science became his major focus. He was a key member of the Campaign for Medical Research, and in the mid- to late-1990s, he, along with his former congressional colleague Paul Rogers, participated in hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill to try to persuade the Congress to support a doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget.
Observers who attended those meetings said that no matter how obstinate the Member was with whom they were talking, Mr. Michel remained true to his genial and gentle nature. Others who have accompanied Mr. Michel on hill visits note how everyone seems to know him, and when going to a meeting with him, one has to allow extra time to accommodate the many people who want to stop and talk to him in the halls of House office buildings as he passes by.
“Bob Michel is a giant and will serve as a fine role model for future Schachman awardees. He has done a terrific job for medical sciences,” says Robert D. Wells, former ASBMB President, who worked with Mr. Michel on the doubling campaign during his presidency.
On January 18, 1989, outgoing President Ronald Reagan conferred upon Mr. Michel the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award given, making him the 7th recipient of the honor. On August 8, 1994, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President Bill Clinton.
While in Congress, Michel was the usual starting pitcher on the Republican side during the annual Democrats vs. Republicans baseball game.
Mr. Michel is memorialized in his district by The Bob Michel Bridge, carrying Route 40 across the Illinois River in Peoria. In addition, his alma mater, Bradley University, has named the Student Center after him. Finally, in the Capitol, the second-floor suite of offices occupied by the Speaker were designated the Robert H. Michel Rooms by the House in 1995.
The Schachman Award recognizes an individual who best demonstrates dedication to public service in support of biomedical science, as exemplified by the award’s namesake, Howard K. Schachman, who served as chairman of ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee for more than ten years. The Award is given annually, and candidates are considered by the Society’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee. The award consists of a permanent keepsake, as well as an honorarium and an opportunity to deliver a lecture at a Society function. The Public Affairs Advisory Committee plans to present the Award to Mr. Michel on September 21 in Washington DC.
On behalf of the Society, ASBMB Today offers its congratulations to Mr. Michel on his receipt of this award.