September 29, 1988

Now, unless someone else has broken the news already, before we begin I'd like to tell you that at 11:37 the space shuttle Discovery lifted off at the Kennedy Space Center, and it's now headed into orbit. And America is back in space. We're now looking forward to the successful completion of the Discovery mission and the safe return of her five-member crew. We salute the bravery of Rick Hauck, Dick Covey, Pinky Nelson, Mike Lounge, and Dave Hilmers; and we ask God to bless this important voyage. They sure were considerate in their timing -- just gave me time to get out here without being late. [Laughter]

Well, after looking down the list of what all your organizations have done, I have to say you are America's good samaritans, and I'm delighted to welcome you to the White House. This is a very special day for me. It's the last time I'll get to present the Presidential Citations for Private Sector Initiatives. This is a program that we started here in 1984 to help recognize the outstanding volunteer efforts of business organizations and dedicated people like you. Today there are some 4,500 "C'' flags waving across America. And I have to confess: I'm a guy who loves to wave the flag. [Laughter] Partly, that's because Betsy Ross and I were childhood friends. [Laughter]

Now, I'm reminded of a story. Now, I know I've told this story more than once -- [laughter] -- but at my age people aren't surprised when you start repeating yourself. Of course, I've been repeating myself for so many years now that it would be risky to stop -- [laughter] -- because then some people would say, "Hey, I guess he's losing his memory.'' [Laughter]

But early in my first term, at a dinner party at the White House -- this is the story -- the wife of an ambassador of a European country sitting beside me heard some talk there at our table about some of the things that were being done here as private sector initiatives. And very quietly she said to me, "Yes, but you're unique.'' And I said, "Well, what do you mean, unique?'' She said, "Yes, in the United States, you do it that way. But,'' she said, "no place else. In the rest of us, in the rest of the world, we just wait for government to do it.''

Well, all of you are the people that she was talking about. She was talking about this country where last year total charitable giving exceeded the combined profits of all the companies on the Fortune 500 list. That's the kind of country America is.

One of the great joys for me during my nearly 8 years in office has been the rare chance I've had to see the American people at their best -- their commitment, their compassion, and their concern for one another. These values are so powerful and abundant in our land. America has been blessed in so many ways, but isn't it great that our greatest blessing, really, is that we have each other? There are few things more inspiring than the pure generosity of a neighbor's helping hand, that distinctively American spirit which says: We can; we care. That generous spirit is what the citation program is all about.

And I should say, the ambassador's wife whom I just mentioned would, I know, be very thrilled to see how other countries are joining in. The first International Conference on Private Sector Initiatives was held in Paris 2 years ago. We got a call that they wanted some people to come over and tell them how it's done. Well, last year, during the economic summit in Venice, I had the chance to address the first gathering of Italian business leaders who were developing this concept in their own country. And just this spring, the first British-American Conference on Private Sector Initiatives was convened, with his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Thatcher in attendance. So, what you are all a part of has become a different kind of international conspiracy: a conspiracy of compassion. And the work being done by Americans is also changing lives not just in the United States but around the world.

Let me read to you from a letter received by a group called Operation Smile. They are volunteer doctors, teachers, students, church members, hospitals, and businesses that provide reconstructive surgery to children in developing countries. This letter is from the mother of Edward Rasco, a young boy in Naga City, the Philippines. She wrote: "I couldn't find the exact words on how I can express my thanks and gratitude, but I should not keep myself silent for I owe my son's life to all of you, second to God.''

Then she tells the story. She explained that she had asked herself: "How can we pay for this operation, when we could not even make both ends meet for our daily subsistence? So, we really prayed hard and sought His guidance and help. It was January 12, 1986, when we heard of the team Operation Smile coming to Naga City. I'm so happy because my son will be treated. Dr. Magee told me there is a need for Edward to be brought to the United States of America for surgery. When we landed at Norfolk airport, everybody hugged and kissed us as if we were their long-lost relatives. Names were unfamiliar, but for me it sounded like names of angels. Edward's recovery was fast and in 5 days he was released from the hospital. He's back to his normal life, happy and smiling. Thank you for doing a miracle for Edward and for helping me lighten the load on my shoulders, which I have been carrying for a long time.''

Well, I can't tell you how much it means to me to know that the work that all of you are doing will continue and expand. You know, in the last 8 years charitable giving in this country has nearly doubled. And more new voluntary programs are being started, literally, every day. Now our Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives is working with our nation's business schools to plant the seed corn for a new generation of corporate support for voluntary programs, and in many instances, it is the students themselves who have taken the first steps. So, thanks to people like you, America's future is one that is bright and filled with generosity and compassion.

Before closing, I want to recognize our Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives for their help and especially to thank John Phelan for his leadership. Also, I want to thank Eddie Fritts for his support and Bill Taylor for his untiring dedication to this effort. Bill, I know that you and the American Society of Association Executives devoted great time and resources to help administer the citation program and to make it such a success, and I know that under your guidance it will continue.

So, thank you all for your work, and God bless you all. And now let's present the awards.

[At this point, the President was presented with a crystal tetrahedron.]

The President. Well, I thank you very much. You are the ones who have done all the work, and I guess I just thought of something. [Laughter] But thank you all, and again, God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:51 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the following members of the space shuttle ``Discovery'' crew: Capt. Frederick H. Hauck, USN, mission commander; Col. Richard O. Covey, USAF, mission pilot; and John M. Lounge, Lt. Col. David C. Hilmers, USMC, and George D. Nelson, mission specialists. The President also referred to John J. Phelan, Jr., and Edward O. Fritts, Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives, and R. William Taylor, president of the American Society of Association Executives.