John W. Gardner

John W. Gardner

Hall of Fame Class of 2003

John W. Gardner was an educator, leader, activist and reformer and the consummate American champion; a man who transformed the nation with ideas and action that improved the lives of millions and changed the face of American politics. Gardner's inspirational book, Excellence led to President John F. Kennedy involving him in federal efforts to improve education.

Dr. Gardner began working with the Carnegie Corporation in 1946 on programs to rebuild relations between the U.S. and other countries after the war. He became the president of the Carnegie Corporation in 1955 and the head of Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. His educational innovations initiated the start of the Model United Nations programs and he was one of the first to use television in the classroom. He bridged the tension between Russia and the United States by establishing the first Russian Research Center at Harvard University. 

He became the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1965 and played a large role in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He launched Medicare, bringing quality health care to senior citizens, and directed the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that redefined the federal role in education and aimed funding at poor students. He also led the development of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and was the Chairman of the National Urban Coalition from 1968 to 1970. He was the Founding Chairman of Common Cause from 1970 to 1977, and in 1979 he founded the Independent Sector, a coalition of corporate, foundation, and voluntary organizations that encourage giving and volunteering in America. He served as Chairman of the National Civic League from 1994 to1996.

Among his many publications on leadership and renewal are Excellence, Self-Renewal, No Easy Victories, the Recovery of Confidence, In Common Cause, On Leadership and the editor of John F. Kennedy's, To Turn the Tide.

In 1964, Dr. Gardner was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honor in the United States. In 2001, he was awarded the Common Cause and Light Foundation Life Achievement Award.

Dr. Gardner's thoughts from his 1990 book, "On Leadership," serve as a testimony to his own remarkable dream of leadership in America. "Most of the ingredients of a vision for this country have been with us for a long time. As the poet wrote, 'The light we sought is shining still.' That we have failed and fumbled in some of our attempts to achieve our ideals is obvious. But the great ideas still beckon-freedom, equality, justice, and the release of human possibilities. The vision is to live up to the best in our past and to reach the goals we have yet to achieve-with respect to our domestic problems and our responsibilities worldwide."