The Columns

W&L Presents Former Sen. John W. Warner with The Washington Award

— by on May 2nd, 2009

Washington and Lee University today presented former Sen. John W. Warner, a 1949 graduate of the university, with its highest honor, the Washington Award. The presentation occurred during Washington and Lee’s reunion weekend and the annual meeting of its Alumni Association.

The Washington Award recognizes distinguished leadership and service to the nation and extraordinary acts of philanthropy in support of Washington and Lee and other institutions.

“The life that he has led exemplifies ideals that W&L has instilled in generations of students,” said Washington and Lee President Kenneth P. Ruscio, who gave Warner the award. “Honor and service, duty, civility and leadership.”

“This is a very deeply moving moment in my life,” said Warner, the second-longest-serving senator from Virginia in the 218-year history of the Senate. He especially noted the influence of W&L’s student-run honor system, saying, “That system has given me enormous strength throughout my public life.”

Warner, who was celebrating his 60th class reunion, told the appreciative audience that when he visits W&L, the first thing he does is walk along the historic Colonnade, just as did his father, a member of the class of 1903. “It re-instills in me the strength that he gave me,” he said, “and the strength that this university gave me.”

Warner began his public service during World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. He served on active duty until the summer of 1946 and, following his honorable discharge as a petty officer third class, entered Washington and Lee on the GI Bill and received a B.S. in basic engineering.

After graduating from W&L, Warner entered law school at the University of Virginia but left to begin a second tour of active military duty, this time as an officer in the Marine Corps, when the Korean War broke out in 1950. He served for two years in Korea before returning to U.Va. to complete his law degree in 1953.

From 1953 to 1956, Warner served as law clerk for Chief Judge E. Barrett Prettyman of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was appointed an assistant U.S. attorney in 1956, and served four years in the trial and appellate divisions before entering private practice in 1960.

In February 1969, Warner was appointed undersecretary of the Navy, and, three years later, he succeeded John H. Chafee as secretary of the Navy. He participated in the Law of the Sea talks and negotiated the Incidents at Sea Executive Agreement with the Soviet Union.

Warner was appointed by President Gerald Ford to coordinate the celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of the United States, directing the federal role at events in all 50 states and in 22 foreign countries.

Warner began his five terms in the U.S. Senate in 1978. He chaired the Armed Services Committee and served on the Intelligence Committee, Environment and Public Works and the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

In August 2007, Warner announced his decision not to seek re-election to a sixth term.