Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson has been honoured with the Benjamin Franklin House Medal for Leadership in a virtual ceremony last week.
The award recognises extraordinary individuals following in Franklin’s footsteps who exemplify a commitment to justice, cross-cultural understanding, tolerance and humanity.
Robinson received the award in recognition of her many achievements over several decades, particularly on gender equality, human rights and climate change.
At the ceremony last week, Robinson was presented with a copper 1818 Benjamin Franklin medal (French minted by Pierre Amedee Duran) by Chair of Benjamin Franklin House John Studzinski.
On receiving the award, Mary Robinson said: “I am honoured and humbled to receive the Benjamin Franklin House Medal for Leadership.
“Franklin has been a hero of mine since my own school days, but I have only recently become aware of his interest in variable weather.
“I think he would be aghast at the slow progress we are making to combat climate change and in guaranteeing a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
“If he were with us today, I am convinced Franklin would be a climate justice champion.
“The climate crisis has caused many different types of injustice, including based on race, gender, generations, regions and biodiversity.
“As we count down towards the COP talks, I hope we can be inspired by Franklin’s vision and leadership.”
Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and revered for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity.
He also invented the lightning rod and bifocals.
He resided at 36 Craven Street in London for 16 years between 1757 and 1775. This was during his time as chief colonial diplomat.
Benjamin Franklin House, at 36 Craven Street in central London, is the world’s only remaining home of Franklin and is an Anglo-American heritage site of great importance.
Robinson was the first female President of Ireland when she was elected in 1990 and served in office until 1997.
She was then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.
A former President of the International Commission of Jurists and former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders she was President and founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative from 2002-2010 and served as Honorary President of Oxfam International from 2002-2012.
She was also Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1998 to 2019.
Mary has been the recipient of numerous honours and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States Barack Obama.
Her many roles now include Adjunct Professor for Climate Justice in Trinity College Dublin and Chair of The Elders.
She also recently became joint Honorary President of the Africa Europe Foundation.
Mary’s memoir, Everybody Matters was published in September 2012 and her book, Climate Justice – Hope, Resilience and the Fight for a Sustainable Future was published in September 2018.
She is also co-host of a podcast on the climate crisis, called ‘Mothers of Invention’.
At the ceremony last week, musician Thomas Bloch played the glass armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin during his tenure at Craven Street.
Guests at the ceremony included Sir Bob Reid (former Chair of Benjamin Franklin House) and current board members Irina Bokova, Ambassador Gerard Errera and Gay Huey Evans CBE.
John Studzinski CBE, Chair of Benjamin Franklin House, said: “I could not be more delighted to award Mary Robinson our third Medal for Leadership.
“We don’t award the medal often and seek individuals whose life exemplifies Franklin’s values, and his tireless quest to improve humanity.
“As a stateswoman, champion of human rights and dogged campaigner on climate change, she has been well ahead of her time and made an outstanding contribution over many years.
“We see lots of crossover between her work and Franklin’s values, including on human rights where he came to see slavery as an abomination.”
Walter Isaacson, author, journalist and Franklin biographer, who attended and spoke at the ceremony, said: “I am delighted that Mary Robinson has been awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal.
“Through writing his biography, I came to discover Franklin’s passion for connecting science with policy-making, including in his own way, climate challenges. Mary is the Benjamin Franklin of our times.
“I think, drawing on his life and approach, she has shown us the power of using humour, humility and a belief in using the evidence to address climate change. Her leadership in this area could not be more timely or important.”
Dr Márcia Balisciano, Director of Benjamin Franklin House, said:
“Mary Robinson is the first woman and first former head of state to receive the medal. In awarding her the Medal, we recognise her many contributions to human rights, climate justice, and gender equality.”
Previous recipients of the award include former Mayor of New York and Founder of Bloomberg LP Michael Bloomberg and John Kerry, then Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions.