The World Food Prize Foundation

Gov. Branstad presents the Iowa Award to Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn

 

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From the Office of the Governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad
May 30, 2014
Press Release
 

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad today presented Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn the Iowa Award at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. Quinn currently serves as the President of The World Food Prize Foundation.  His full biography can be found below and a photo of Quinn can be found here.

The Iowa Award represents the state’s highest citizen award. The Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, established in 1948 by Governor Robert D. Blue and the Iowa Legislature, created the award. The foundation wished “to encourage and recognize the outstanding service of Iowans in the fields of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education, agriculture, industry, government, and other public service” and to recognize the “merit of their accomplishments in Iowa and throughout the United States.”

In his speech, Branstad said, “Throughout his career, Ambassador Quinn has displayed leadership in protecting the world’s most vulnerable, working for causes to ensure we can continue to feed the world, and fighting for freedom for refugees and helping welcome them to our state.”

Lt. Governor Reynolds noted his close work to ensure Iowa students are prepared for the careers of tomorrow by stating, “STEM education fits perfectly with the World Food Prize’s mission of recognizing those advancing food and agriculture, science and technology. We know the future generations of leaders in biosciences and food sciences – maybe even the next Norman Borlaug – must be equipped with an exceptional STEM education. The careers of tomorrow will require it.

Under Ambassador Quinn’s leadership, the World Food Prize & the Iowa Youth Institute are helping to achieve the Council’s goal of expanding student interest & achievement in the STEM fields.”

Previous Iowa Award winners include:

1951- President Herbert Hoover (engineer, humanitarian, author, and U.S. president)
1955- Jay N. Darling (cartoonist, conservationist, Pulitzer Prize winner)
1961- Frank Spedding (educator, chemist, worked on the first atomic bomb)
1961- James Van Allen (educator, physicist, rocket space exploration)
1966- Henry A. Wallace (U.S. secretary of agriculture, vice president of United States)
1970- Mamie Eisenhower (first lady, wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
1975- Karl King (composer, bandmaster)
1978- Norman Borlaug (crop geneticist, worked to end hunger, won Nobel Peace Prize)
1980- Monsignor Luigi Liguitti (director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference)
1984- George Gallup (founder of the Gallup Poll)
1988- Meredith Willson (composer, musician)
1992- Carrie Lane Chapman Catt (leader in suffrage movement and for world peace)
1996- Simon Estes (international opera singer)
1999- Maurice Lasansky (artist, educator)
1999- John Atanasoff (physicist, mathematician, educator, inventor, 1st electronic digital computer)
2001- John Ruan (innovative entrepreneur, philanthropist, World Food Prize sponsor)
2002- George Washington Carver (internationally renowned scientist and humanitarian)
2005- Robert D. Ray (governor, statesman, mayor, university president, lawyer, insurance executive)
2006- Harry Hopkins (founder of WPA under Presidents Roosevelt and Truman)
2009 – Grant Wood (Artist)
2011 – William C. “Bill” Knapp (philanthropist, business and community leader)
2012 – Richard “Dick” Jacobson (transportation pioneer, entrepreneur, philanthropist)

The Iowa Congressional delegation letter congratulating Ambassador Quinn and Quinn’s nomination letter by Governor Robert D. Ray were each read by Reynolds.

Below are the speeches of Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds and Ambassador Quinn, as prepared for delivery:

Gov. Branstad’s speech:

Good afternoon.

We’re here today to honor an Iowan who embodies the values of the people of our state.

Service. Sacrifice. Integrity. Philanthropy.

Those are just a few words that come to mind when reflecting on the career of Ambassador Ken Quinn.

Before he was “Ambassador,” Ken Quinn worked in Governor Robert D. Ray’s administration. At that time, I was serving as Lt. Governor of Iowa prior to when the governor and lt. governor were elected together.

On June 28, 1979, a storm system moving from the northwest to the southeast moved across Iowa after originating in North Dakota.  I happened to be playing softball in Forest City, where I went to high school, as the storms rolled in.

Tornadoes began hitting Emmet and Kossuth counties. In a span of an hour, from 5:38 p.m. until 6:38 p.m., an EF3 tornado, capable of producing winds between 135-165 miles per hour, ripped through northern Iowa directly hitting the community of Algona.

Another tornado, this one an EF4 beast, directly hit the town of Manson, Iowa, killing three and leveling the town.

The storm system spawned 27 fierce tornadoes that day.

As Lt. Governor, and as a native of northern Iowa, I worked to get assistance those affected by the storm.

The person who helped me – and more importantly the Iowans who needed the help the most – was a young, 37 year-old staffer to Governor Bob Ray named Ken Quinn.

I was on the phone with Ken from the home of the Winnebago County Sherriff. Ken got in touch with Governor Ray, who was in Romania on a trade mission.

Governor Ray recommended that Ken and I survey the damage the following day.

The next day, Ken and I toured Algona then flew to Manson to survey damage there.

Those two tornadoes, along with others across the state that night, caused about $40 million worth of damage.

With Ambassador Quinn’s help, Iowa requested and received a Presidential Disaster Declaration.

It was obvious then that Ambassador Quinn cared deeply about his fellow Iowans, had a passion to serve and believed in working for a cause greater than himself.

Throughout his career, Ambassador Quinn has displayed leadership in protecting the world’s most vulnerable, working for causes to ensure we can continue to feed the world, and fighting for freedom for refugees and helping welcome them to our state.

With Governor Bob Ray, Ambassador Quinn led Iowa SHARES, which rushed food and Iowa medical teams to the Thai border to feed thousands of starving Cambodian refugees.

During his time with the United States State Department, Ambassador Quinn personally negotiated the first ever access by U.S. military search teams to a North Vietnamese prison, and the first ever access to the entire country of Cambodia.

His leadership role in starting the evacuation of Saigon as the Vietnam War concluded led to hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese refugees being rescued so that they might live in freedom.

Promoting human rights and democracy has been at the core of Ambassador Quinn’s career. As a diplomat, he stopped a woman from being tortured in Vietnam.

He protected an endangered opposition politician in his Embassy for fifty-three days and personally intervened to save the life of the leading opposition political leader in Cambodia.

His work across the globe made him the only U.S. diplomat ever to be awarded on three separate occasions the American Foreign Service Association Award for Intellectual Courage in Challenging Official Policy, including his refusing to implement the orders of the Secretary of State that he believed would leave his Embassy’s staff vulnerable to jihadist terrorist attacks in Cambodia.

Following his work in Foreign Service, Ambassador Quinn returned home to Iowa to lead the organization that is housed in the beautiful building we gather in today, The World Food Prize.

Inspired by Dr. Norman Borlaug’s innovation and the Green Revolution, Ambassador Quinn built the World Food Prize into a significant internationally recognized award.

His passion for Dr. Borlaug’s work and the continued dialogue of feeding the world helped get the resolution passed through the Legislature to honor Dr. Borlaug with a bronze statue in Statuary Hall at the United Sates Capitol.

Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I, along with many Iowans, were honored to be in Washington as Ambassador Quinn’s work and passion was realized as we unveiled the statue earlier this year on the 100th anniversary of Dr. Borlaug’s birth.

Today, Ambassador Quinn becomes the 23rd Iowan to receive the Iowa Award from the State of Iowa. He joins John Ruan, Grant Wood, Carrie Lane Chapman Catt, George Washington Carver, George Gallup and Norman Borlaug as a recipient. He joins Simon Estes and Bill Knapp, who are with us today, as a recipient.

He also joins Governor Bob Ray – also with us today – who 35 years ago assigned him to help his Lt. Governor get the help to those in northern Iowa who desperately needed it after a devastating tornado ripped apart their community.

Little did I know the impact that staffer would go on to have on Iowa – and the world.

The Iowa Award is the highest civilian honor the state presents. The reverse side of the medal describes its recipient. Ambassador Quinn’s Iowa Award reads “Diplomat, Warrior, Passionate Humanitarian.”

It’s now my distinct honor and privilege to bestow the Iowa Award on Ambassador Ken Quinn on behalf of the State of Iowa.

Lt. Gov. Reynolds’ speech

We’re all here today to honor and recognize an extraordinary Iowan. A man who wouldn’t compromise his convictions or his morals in the face of danger. That man, of course, is Ambassador Ken Quinn.

During his long, honorable career, Ambassador Quinn has been shot at, wounded or in receipt of death threats in every foreign assignment he took on. But in the face of great adversity, he emerged as a highly-decorated Foreign Service officer who is remembered and admired as an individual who fought for democracy, justice, equality, human rights and philanthropy.

Today, Ambassador Quinn becomes the 23rd Iowan to receive the Iowa Award. The award to be bestowed upon Ambassador Quinn today is the state’s highest citizen award. The Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation, established in 1948 by Governor Robert D. Blue and the Iowa General Assembly, created the award.

The foundation wished to “encourage and recognize outstanding service of Iowans in the fields of science, medicine, law, religion, social welfare, education, agriculture, industry, government, and other public service” and to recognize the “merit of their accomplishments in Iowa and throughout the United States.”

With a resume like that of Ambassador Quinn’s, we may need to amend the description of the Iowa Award to highlight the accomplishments of individuals in Iowa and the United States, and in Ambassador Quinn’s case, around the globe.

Since taking office as Lt. Governor, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ambassador Quinn on something I’m extremely passionate about: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education, or STEM for short.

STEM education fits perfectly with the World Food Prize’s mission of recognizing those advancing food and agriculture science and technology. We know the future generations of leaders in biosciences and food sciences – maybe even the next Norman Borlaug – must be equipped with an exceptional STEM education. The careers of tomorrow will require it.

Under Ambassador Quinn’s leadership, the World Food Prize & the Iowa Youth Institute are helping to achieve the Council’s goal of expanding student interest & achievement in the STEM fields.

In today’s world, teachers, students, parents & communities need to understand how the STEM fields are the basis for innovative problem-solving and discovery – which are best acquired through exploratory learning and active student engagement – the Youth Institute epitomizes this goal.

With the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, more than 200 Iowa high school students have traveled to Asia, Africa, Latin America & the Middle East to work alongside renowned scientists at leading research centers.

Ambassador Quinn, we appreciate your work, your career and your service.

Ambassador Quinn’s speech can be read here.

Ambassador Quinn’s biography is below:

Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, assumed the leadership of the World Food Prize Foundation on January 1, 2000, following his retirement from the State Department after a 32 year career in the Foreign Service.

Inspired by the vision of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the founder of the World Food Prize, Ambassador Quinn has endeavored to build this annual $250,000 award into “the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture.” Held each October in Des Moines on or around World Food Day (October 16), the World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony, “Borlaug Dialogue” international symposium and Global Youth Institute have grown in size and stature under his direction.

With the support of the John Ruan family, Dr. Quinn has led the campaign which successfully raised $29.8 million to restore the historic Des Moines Public Library and transform it into the World Food Prize Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates.  He provided the personal leadership to have the building designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest possible level of energy efficiency and resource conservation.

During his diplomatic career, Ken Quinn served: for six years in Vietnam during the war, including as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta; on the National Security Council staff at the White House; as Narcotics Counselor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna; for four years as Chairman of the U.S. Inter-agency Task Force on POW/MIAs; and as Director of Iowa SHARES, the humanitarian campaign that sent Iowa doctors, nurses, medical supplies and food to starving Cambodian refugees.  Dr. Quinn emerged from these experiences as one of the US government’s foremost experts on Indochina. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins of the radical Pol Pot regime and is widely acknowledged as the first person anywhere to report, in 1974, on the genocidal policies of the Khmer Rouge. Twenty years later, while serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, his plan of agricultural enhancements and rural roads led to the final eradication of the Khmer Rouge.

A fluent speaker of Vietnamese, Dr. Quinn acted as interpreter for President Gerald Ford at the White House and personally negotiated the first ever entry by U.S. personnel into a Vietnamese prison to search for U.S. POW/MIAs. He was also a member of the first U.S. team to gain entry to a former Soviet prison in Russia.
Ambassador Quinn rose to become one of the most decorated Foreign Service officers of his generation, recognized for the important role he played in humanitarian endeavors, as well as for his actions in dangerous and violent situations, including:

  • The Secretary of State’s Award for Heroism and Valor for his efforts to protect American citizens exposed to danger in Cambodia, as well as the four lifesaving rescues in which he participated in Vietnam;
  • Being the only civilian to ever receive the U.S. Army Air Medal for his participation in helicopter combat operations in Vietnam;
  • Being the only Foreign Service officer ever to have three times received the American Foreign Service Association Rivkin and Herter Awards for intellectual courage in challenging policy.

Ambassador Quinn, a graduate of Wahlert High School and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, has a M.A. in Political Science from Marquette University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Maryland. He and his wife Le Son have three adult children: two sons Davin and Shandon and a daughter Kelly.

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