Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient – Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas:
It’s not something that you plan for and the rest of your career. You think, oh maybe I’ll win a
Tony or an Oscar or an Emmy you think about that; you
kind of aspire to it. You don’t, you know, work all
your life and say maybe someday the President will give a medal. It comes as a complete
surprise and I think that’s what makes
it so wonderful. It’s that somebody has
noticed and appreciated how you’ve done
your life’s work. My really first big impact was
playing the first single girl on television, which the
President discussed today. And I knew when I did it that it
was revolutionary and it mean a lot to me that it was a success
because it meant that what I was talking about; about being
a single girl who didn’t want to get married and wanted
to make on her own, that I wasn’t really as
revolutionary as I thought but in fact it was kind
of a fait accompli. Every home in America
had a That Girl in it. And today so many
women came up to me, I mean congresswomen and all
kinds of different accomplished women and said,” That Girl
was my role model growing up.” And it really means a lot to me
that they say that because it’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to say to young
girls and women, you know, your life does not have
to be defined by what your mothers and grandmothers did. I always wanted to be an actress
but I think I realized early on because my father was a
comedian, Danny Thomas, and he always said that
every joke has a message, no matter what the joke is
there’s a message in it; there’s a irony and you’re
saying something about somebody or something that’s
going on in the culture. So I’ve always been aware
of that, that every joke, every comedy, every drama does
say something about the culture and is speaking to people
and people are listening. And one of the things that’s
great about comedy is a great psychoanalyst said
one time that, ” what is learned with
laughter is learned well.” And I think that’s true and
it’s one of the things I’ve loved about
doing comedy. And Free to be You and Me, which
the President spoke about today, really sang and told jokes
and poems and stories that were funny and entertaining
but they were saying to children that the world should be a place
that’s equal for all races and genders and families no
matter what they look like, it’s a family. So those are important messages
that sometimes can be told way better to children if it’s done
with humor and entertainment. My father founded St. Jude’s
Children’s Research Hospital in 1962, and it had
never been my thought that I would
someday take it on. In fact, he was quite clear that
it was not be my sisters and brothers burden to carry, but
after he was gone I started going to St. Jude and when I
saw the children and met their parents. And when I held a dying child in
my arms and said goodbye I knew what it was to have a child
die; and that I was going to do everything in my
power to raise the money, to spread the message, to
do whatever I could to have no parent ever have
to live through this. And I learned that at the dining
room table from my parents from my father who talked about St.
Jude since we were children. When your father found something
when he built something from the Earth up, you really
do have it in the very foundation
of the family. I didn’t expect to get
as involved as I am. I’m now the National Outreach
Director and I’m part of the team that raises a
billion dollars a year. I think the best advice
I’ve ever received was from my father. When I was about 17 years old,
I wanted to be an actress and my father was already a
very famous comedian. And everybody that was
interviewing me and reviewing me was comparing
me to him and it scared me. So I said to my father,” I
don’t want to be a Thomas, I’m going to change my name
and get away from all this.” And he said to me,” I raised
you to be a thoroughbred and thoroughbred’s run
their own races; they don’t look at any of the
other horses they just wear their blinders and they run, and
that’s what you have to do you have to just run your own race.” And I think that’s the
best advice I ever got. Run your own race, don’t look
at any of the other horses, run you own race.

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