American Defense Secretary James Mattis was awarded the 2017 Excellence in Public Service Award from Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the National Press Club on Tuesday for his “commitment to citizenship and public leadership.”

Mattis told the audience that he was humbled by the award, claiming, “It’s not about me. It’s about public service. We’re trying to build a country here, and it’s never done.”

Mattis, as well as Trevor Brown, the dean of Glenn College, both used their opportunities to speak to discuss the college’s namesake, recently departed U.S. Senator John Glenn.  Glenn, who made history as an astronaut when he became the first American ever to orbit the earth, also served as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea.  He earned six Distinguished Flying Crosses and several Air Medals before making the move to NASA, and eventually the Senate.

According to the dean of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, it was particularly important to him this year that the award go to someone Glenn had a great deal of respect for, and that man, according to Brown, is fellow Marine James Mattis.

“There’s no question that Secretary Mattis is deserving of this award tonight,” he said. “This is in part the college’s way to fulfill its commitment to the senator — to bind someone he revered in his life to the life of the college.”

Glenn’s daughter, Lynn Glenn, echoed Brown’s sentiments, explaining that her father had a “great admiration” for Secretary Mattis.  Lynn Glenn explained that the admiration went much deeper than simple service comradery: “not just that he’s a Marine, but also because he’s a tremendous patriot and has been a patriot like Dad for all his life. That’s been his commitment.”

Lynn Glenn then gave Mattis a needlepoint she made that depicts Doublemint gum, a gesture born out of her family’s tradition whenever her father would go on dangerous missions.  John Glenn, she explained, would give each member of his family a stick of gum as he departed, and then tell them “I’m just going to the store.  I’ll be back.”

“Dad gave each of us in the family a stick of Doublemint when he went back into space when he was 77,” she said.  Now, she makes needlepoint Doublemint gum sticks for people who have played important roles in her family, were pivotal to her father’s service, or who brought meaning to his life.

Mattis, visibly moved by the gesture, explained how important John Glenn was to him as well.

“I do not have the words to fully express my admiration and respect for Lynn’s father, for Annie’s husband, for a man who did what he did,” he said.

“We all need role models in this world. We all need them, because they inspire us. They remind us that if we look at someone like this, we can always be better the next day. We all need a code and the role models we choose to remind us of what we can be in this country give us so many beautiful opportunities.”

Mattis then went on to explain that building this country is a job that needs to be done in every aspect of life, and in every part of the nation.

“As we build this country in John Glenn’s image,” he continued. “it’s good to remember it doesn’t matter where you do it, where you contribute — your family, your parish, your school district, your county, your state, your country, the military, civil service, the intelligence agencies, wherever it is — it is a noble mission, and you have to remember that, especially when the going gets rough, and it’s gotten a little rough here in our beautiful country.”

Mattis then addressed our politically divided nation, explaining that teamwork, and leadership, require recognizing the humanity in one another.

“It’s going to be your teamwork — it’s working with each other and public service,” he said. “It means putting aside petty grievances. It means accepting the humanity of the people standing and working next to you, not characterizing them by a certain political stripe or another, rather by their humanity, by them being the mother of a girl trying to get into college, the father of a son with MS. It’s by remembering we’re more connected than we are separated by those issues that have to do with our vision for this country as we all work together to turn it over in as good a shape or better than we received it. That’s our obligation to the next generation.”

Mattis closed his acceptance speech by explaining that people should emulate Glenn’s tenacity in the face of hardship or frustration, explaining that John Glenn “didn’t get worn out. He kept at it and held the line, treating others with a sense of decency.”

“As you go through your life, as you go through your career, there’s greatness in every life,” Mattis said. “It’s just a matter of you giving it that sort of attention that comes from putting others first. Semper Fi, Always Faithful.”

Image courtesy of Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs Facebook