59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum
Medal Winners, 2013

2013 MV Medal Winners (from left to right):
Chris Murphy, Barbara Murphy, Olga Hirshhorn,
Sheldon Hackney (front)

Introduced by Vernon Jordan

Good afternoon. It is very fitting that I should be here today because when Sheldon was first named President of the University of Pennsylvania in 1981, over 30 years ago now, Sheldon got stuck with me as his first commencement speaker. I had been invited in part because my daughter Vicky was in the graduating class. So I made the speech, beamed as my daughter received her degree, and then President Sheldon Hackney awarded me an honorary degree. Well, no good deed goes unpunished. So I’m here this afternoon as we all are to honor a great man, a great intellect, and a great friend, Francis Sheldon Hackney.

Over the course of his long and distinguished career, Sheldon has been many things to many people. To the University of Pennsylvania he was the leader who guided the University from an unranked school to the 11th best college in the country. To the civil rights community he is a staunch activist and advocate along with his wife Lucy, as well as his mother-in-law Virginia. And to the conservative polemicist Bernard Goldberg, Sheldon is number 87 in his book entitled “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.” But to me, Sheldon Hackney has simply been proof that friendship is the medicine of life.

Sharing a Southern heritage, each with a sense of history and a deep commitment to racial equality, it has been my real pleasure to get to know Sheldon and their family here on Martha’s Vineyard. And I have very fond memories of the good times we’ve spent here playing doubles with Sheldon and Lucy, golfing at Farm neck, long drinking dinners in each others homes in Vineyard Haven and Chilmark. For years Sheldon has been an essential part of my summers here on the Vineyard.

Fortunately for all of us, Sheldon did not confine his activities to golf games and tennis playing. Nor did he hole up in an ivory tower somewhere in Philadelphia there to be alone with his books and his thoughts. No, Sheldon sees his role in the same terms as his friend and mentor, the great C. Vann Woodward, who spoke of the special bond between a Historian and his public. In his retirement, Sheldon chose a quiet life in service of his adopted community. He devoted the whole of his leadership and energy and intellect to the Museum and to the Vineyard. We the year-round and seasonal residents of Martha’s Vineyard have had the great privilege to be Sheldon Hackney’s public. And so the Bois Professor of United States History could be found, on any given Sunday, among the parishioners of Grace Episcopal Church where he served on the vestry.

The accomplished President of two Universities might lead a sold-out discussion about the Civil War or World War II in that honeyed Alabama drawl. The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities would eagerly become chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, eschewing the crowded salons of Georgetown for the children at the Vineyard Haven library. This has been Sheldon’s legacy in his later years. Rewriting the Museum’s bylaws and persuading his friends to donate to the capital campaign, staying involved with the local NAACP, bringing the rich history and culture of this Island to the people who call it home. 

In my judgment, Sheldon Hackney’s career represents the gold standard of teaching and educational leadership and no where has that shined through more strongly than in his work promoting this Island’s past and safeguarding its future. The Vineyard itself has a long and interesting history from its whaling days to the very famous fictitious shark. From its native inhabitants, to the time when the entire island spoke sign language, to the inkwell. And Sheldon, you didn’t just help write and preserve that history, you have taken your place as a part of it.

Just before I came here, I left President Obama on the 13th tee in order to be here on time. And the President asked, “What’s your hurry, Vernon?” and I said, “I’ve got to go be with my friend Sheldon Hackney and Lucy.” And he said to me to say to both of you, “Congratulations, good wishes, and thanks for your leadership.” And so it is my great honor to present this medal to my dear friend Sheldon Hackney.

Hi, I’m Fain Hackney and I’m here for purposes of tonight’s remarks. You’re going to have to pretend I’m my father but without the charm and the Southern drawl. But these are his words. I am flattered beyond words, I am not even tempted to argue that my award proves that the Museum has exquisite judgment.  It is a treat to have Vernon Jordan as the presenter, he got me into Washington and then provided a forward for my book about the rough road from Philadelphia to Washington in the Clinton years. My wife and I have loved the Vineyard since our first summer visit in 1965 and now it is the center of our family. I also think that my commitment to the Vineyard grows out of its character of being very diverse, yet there is a strong commitment to the health and happiness of each different community. As I am a historian, you will not be surprised by my belief that an understanding of the history of ones community increases ones commitment to it. It is up to each of us, of course, to use our understanding of whom we are and what our community is to build a society of which we can all be proud. That is one of the reasons the Museum is so important in the community. We don’t need to behave like our predecessors, but we need to understand who we are so that we can become who we want to be. So history is about the future. Onward.

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