News Column

Ralph Lauren honored for rallying around the flag

June 17, 2014

By Maria Puente, @usatmpuente, USA TODAY

As they say at the Olympics, fashion designer Ralph Lauren, official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic team, "medaled" Tuesday at the Smithsonian: He was presented with a prestigious award by his pal Hillary Clinton for leading the campaign to save the Star-Spangled Banner.

It was an emotional ceremony at the National Museum of American History, and not just because it pulled at the heartstrings of Lauren's well-known patriotism.

"I've always been inspired by America, but I never thought I'd get an award for it," Lauren said softly while accepting the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his contributions to preserving the tattered flag that inspired the national anthem. The flag is now back on display at the museum.

It also was emotional because 15 immigrants (one for each of the 15 stars on the flag), from Australia to South Korea, were sworn in as American citizens.

For Lauren, born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939 to immigrants from Belarus, the naturalization ceremony brought back memories of his parents studying earnestly for the citizenship test. His family embodies the immigrant experience, he said.

"You're very lucky to be here," he told the immigrants. "I started with nothing but good parents and a good family, but the opportunity that I had to use my talent -- America gave me that."

Sixteen years ago, Clinton, whose first-lady projects included saving America's treasures, asked Lauren for help in preserving the deteriorated Star-Spangled Banner; he gave $13 million, which in turn inspired other donors.

"It got the ball rolling," Lauren said after the ceremony. "I've had a good life, a wonderful life, and I've tried to do my best to give back."

Lauren said he doesn't like to be called a philanthropist, but he has become almost as famous for his generosity as for his global brand. Last month, he was honored by Prince William for his major donation to a London hospital.

Still, he said he felt especially touched by the Smithsonian honor and its connection to his feelings about America.

"What I've done, I've done from the heart, because it's the right thing," he said. "And I've been successful doing that."

Susan Walsh, AP

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Source: USA Today

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