‘You Don’t Mess With Ethel’: Obama Praises Ethel Kennedy With Medal of Freedom Honor

President Obama awarded Ethel Kennedy with the Medal of Freedom Monday afternoon.
President Obama awarded Ethel Kennedy with the Medal of Freedom Monday afternoon. –ABC News

Ethel Kennedy, the human rights advocate and widow of Robert F. Kennedy who adorably asked President Obama to take the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Monday afternoon.

“You don’t mess with Ethel,’’ President Obama said during his remarks.

Kennedy was among 19 people who received the medal, including actress Meryl Streep, musician Stevie Wonder, and composer Stephen Sondheim. The Medal of Freedom, the government’s highest civilian award, was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, Ethel’s brother-in-law.

Kennedy has long been an advocate for human rights in her time at the RFK Center, which she established after her husband’s death in 1968.

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She has a lighter side, too. In August, Kennedy challenged Obama, then vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, to take the ice bucket challenge and dump freezing water on his head. “Welcome to Cape Cod, President Obama. I nominate you,’’ she said while taking the challenge herself.

The most powerful man in the world declined the ice-water bid and said he would donate instead. “The President appreciates Mrs. Kennedy thinking of him for the challenge – though his contribution to this effort will be monetary,’’ a spokesperson said.

Obama addressed his decision not to take the challenge during Monday’s Medal of Freedom remarks.

“I grew up in Hawaii,’’ he said. “I don’t enjoy pouring ice water on top of my head.’’

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