PA-born Babe Zaharias receives posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom

Published 12:10 am Saturday, January 9, 2021

Despite all the turmoil swirling in Washington D.C. Thursday, the posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation to Port Arthur born Babe Didrikson Zaharias went off without a hitch.

Zaharias Foundation president W.L. Pate Jr. accepted the medal from President Donald Trump, following presentations to LPGA great Annika Sorenstam and World Golf Hall of Famer Gary Player. The ceremony took place in the East room of the White House with approximately 100 people in attendance.

“Things couldn’t have gone any smoother,” said Pate, who said he is anxious to put the medal on display in the Babe Zaharias Museum located off Interstate 10 in Beaumont. “I am so pleased for Babe. I know she was looking down on us and smiling. She is so deserving of the recognition that will come with this.

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“For me, it was just very special to be able to represent Babe at such a meaningful event. You will never know what a thrill it was to be standing there next to Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam and President Trump and to have a photo taken with them.”

Zaharias won two gold medals and one silver in the 1932 Olympics, won 41 LPGA tournaments, including 10 majors, was voted the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year a record six times and was named the greatest female athlete of the 20th century by the AP, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

Both Sorenstam, who won 72 LGPA tournaments, and the globe-trotting Player, who won 24 PGA events, including 9 majors, and finished first 118 times worldwide, referenced Zaharias in their remarks.

“If it hadn’t been for Babe, the LPGA wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Sorenstam. “She opened so many doors for me and other female golfers. She was truly the trailblazer for women in golf. She was a such remarkable athlete.”

“I deeply love my wife,” said the 85-year-old Player. “But if I had been born earlier I’m afraid I’d have wanted to marry Babe Zaharias.”

Trump, an avid golfer, spoke in detail about Zaharias’ accomplishments not only in golf but in other sports. According to Pate, the president seemed genuinely impressed with what a winner Zaharias was.

The president was presented a copy of the book on Zaharias’ life — Wonder Girl — signed by author Don Van Natta.

Among those in attendance was Giles Kibbe, a Lamar University graduate and Senior Vice President and General Counsel to Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. Kibbe was instrumental in getting information to the White House inner circle that helped seal the deal on Zaharias receiving the award.

“Being there was a surreal experience,” said Kibbe. “Everyone was excited to celebrate the achievements of Babe, Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam, but it was difficult not to think about the capitol being infiltrated the day before. The president was under a lot of political pressure but seemed to set that aside for a bit to honor these legends.

“Player, Sorenstam and W.L. gave great speeches. W.L. provided great color to her achievements and life. It was really nice to have that connection to Babe and a great moment for Port Arthur and Beaumont. This award was well deserved and a long time coming.

“I was very happy to help in a small way and truly honored to be invited to attend.”