George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States
1998 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize – Ceremony Keynote Address
Thank you all very much. Please be seated and thank you all. Home sweet home, back in the
Waldorf. I’m glad to be here and I wish Barbara were here. Please don’t ask …if anybody else
asks me, where’s Barbara, I will have an identity crisis. I used to be President of the United
States of America, and now I’m Barbara’s husband…but she’s well, devoting a lot of her time to
the pursuit of helping others through the Mayo Clinic, through her foundation on family literacy,
and many other things.
I want to first salute this audience, made up largely those who are ones of thousands of points of
light. I was so moved by the movie [about Doctors Without Borders] and so pleased to hear Dr.
McGill’s comments about Doctors Without Borders. I was in the Sudan back when I was Vice
President, and I was in Somalia when I was President, and this seems like deja vu. But what
came through [in the film and talk] is not just the agony that was described, but the fact that this
marvelous organization that we honor here today is involved, is trying to help, and is lifting up
people’s lives all around the world.
I want to salute Barron and Eric Hilton, both friends of mine for a long, long time, and Donald
Hubbs. I thank the Hilton Foundation for appropriately honoring not just this year’s winner, but
for all those who are singled out and thus inspire others with their commitment to helping others.
To Judy Miller, I am pleased to see her again. I was very honored to hear the blessing from
Cardinal O’Connor, a man I admire, and of course we have here, Rudy Giuliani, a political leader
without frontiers—a guy who has done so much for this city that it has resonated all across the
One of the truly rewarding aspects of having served as President is the many opportunities that
I’ve had to meet with people here in the United States and around the world who have
accomplished extraordinary thin gs in service to their fellow man. And without fail, I am always
struck by two thoughts. The first is the profound way in which these selfless people make us all
better by their inspiring examples, and the second is the difficulty one has in finding the right
words to thank them for everything they do. It’s taken a while, but I’ve discovered something I
guess I’ve always known; words alone cannot possibly convey the sense of gratitude that decent
people feel in their hearts for those who help heal the sick and comfort the less fortunate. Indeed,
when juxtaposed with the remarkable acts we are gathered here to applaud, even the most
eloquent words are incapable of adequately capturing the fundamental essence of what it means
to care, to give a damn, to try to touch the life of another.
But actions are different. Words can be offered freely, but it takes actions to fulfill the intent of
the words we offer. And I’ve always been one to believe that actions give words their true
meaning. That is why I’m pleased to be here today to bear witness as one wonderful group, the
Hilton Foundation, who does so much for others, salutes another—Doctors Without Borders—for
their extraordinary work lifting the lives of the downtrodden and less fortunate. Baseball season
has just ended, so let me put it in baseball terms. Having the Hilton Foundation honor Doctors
Without Borders for its humanitarian work is like Mark McGuire honoring Sammy Sosa for
hitting home runs. The point is, you both do it, and you do it very, very effectively, so I salute
both organizations, the donor and the recipient.
As some of you may know, when Conrad Hilton gave the Hilton Foundation its charter, he wrote:
“there is a natural law that obliges you and me to relieve the suffering, the distressed, and the
destitute.” And judging by their actions over the last 27 years, it would appear that Doctors
Without Borders shares this charter, for that’s exactly what they’ve done, and it’s exactly what
they will continue to do. While I know they operate free from government or religious influence,
I think Cardinal O’Connor was right on target when he noted that clearly what you do is the
Lord’s work here on earth. So in evidence here today is the noblest of causes joined by the most
charitable of organizations. It is commitment in action, commitment not only to provide needed
support for this truly humanitarian work, but also to help lead the effort to make even stronger the
hands that heal.
The Cold War, thank God, is over. But the extinction of the Soviet empire, the implosion of the
Soviet empire, and the extinction of the Soviet Bear has not begun to remove the blight of
suffering from the human condition. Regional ethnic strife, disease, and famine all remain.
Indeed in some ways, the need for worldwide humanitarian aid has never been greater. I was
talking to Assistant Secretary of State, Julia Taft, who also does so much of the Lord’s work in
her job for our country, and she reminded me that this suffering continues not just in the places
we’ve seen in the film today, but all around the world. It is critical that organizations like
Doctors Without Borders be given the support that they need to bring much needed emergency
relief to endangered populations. As Dr. McGill just indicated, and as that gripping film showed,
funds from this prestigious Hilton Humanitarian Prize will help support their relief efforts in
Sudan, one of the most devastated areas in our global village today. As Vice-President, I
mentioned I was there 12 years ago as part of a famine relief project, so I am well aware that
every bag of rice, every bag of food, every caring physician makes a difference between life and
I would simply close by saying that back when I had a job, I often talked about those who are one
of a thousand points of light; this referred to people who volunteered their time to help others less
fortunate than themselves. I believe I was right when I said there can be no definition of a
successful life that does not include service to others. Today, in the Hilton Foundation and in
Doctors Without Borders, we have two of the brightest points of light whose sterling examples
are a beacon of hope to us all. The work you do reminds us that in the human race, some of us
are falling behind. So keep up the terrific work; thank you for having me here, and may God
continue to bless Doctors Without Borders. Thank you.