He says walking and reading are his weaknesses, it’s hard for him to pass up an opportunity do either. He is a husband, a father of five and a grandfather — seemingly an ordinary guy.
But Max Kampelman, former graduate student and professor at the University, is not ordinary.
Kampelman received the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian commendation, on Wednesday.
Calling Kampelman a “quintessential American citizen,” President Clinton presented Kampelman and seven others with their medals during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Originally from New York, Kampelman came to the University as a graduate student in 1944.
“I came to the University of Minnesota for the study on starvation,” Kampelman said. “Much of my time was spent in the lab of physiological hygiene over the course of two years.”
This study’s purpose was to help doctors treat emaciated concentration camp survivors released at the end of World War II. While participating in the study, Kampelman also took courses.
Some of Kampelman’s fondest memories include the experiences he had with the students and faculty in the University’s political science department.
“Back then, the Department of Political Science was a very close-knit group of individuals,” he said. “We would go out together every Saturday night.”
Kampelman’s Saturday night outings enabled him to befriend Hubert Humphrey Jr. At the time, Humphrey was the mayor of Minneapolis and close to the University department.
When Humphrey won the Senate race in 1948, Kampelman agreed to help him for a few months organizing his office.
“I never had any intention of staying on staff,” Kampelman said. “It’s one thing to have a friend, and another thing to work for him.”
But he stayed on with Humphrey for six and a half years — a great experience, Kampelman said.
In 1955, Kampelman decided to open a law office in Washington, D.C. The law firm has blossomed since its beginning, now boasting more than 100 employees.
“I was happy practicing law,” he said. “I was not interested in going back into government.”
But Walter Mondale, vice president under President Carter, asked Kampelman to serve as a delegate to a Madrid human rights conference in 1980. Kampelman agreed. He held his ambassadorial rank for three years.
Kampelman continued to work in international politics. In 1985, toward the end of Cold War, he bargained with delegates from the Soviet Union for the reduction of nuclear weapons.
Clinton said that Kampelman, as an uncommonly gifted negotiator, won crucial arms-control agreements.
Yet, despite his gains toward nuclear disarmament, Kampelman said he enjoyed his work in Madrid the most. “It allowed me to do something in the fight for human rights.”
The Medal of Freedom is not the only prestigious award he has received. In 1989, President Reagan presented Kampelman with the Presidential Citizens Medal — the second highest civilian honor.
In Wednesday’s ceremony, Clinton praised his work. “These efforts helped to set in motion the collapse of communism and the beginning of a new era of democracy,” Clinton said. “He has excelled — as a diplomat, a philanthropist, a humanitarian.”