Former President George H. W. Bush Receives Medal of Freedom

( [email protected] ) Feb 16, 2011 07:27 AM EST

President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor to former President George H. W. Bush Tuesday for his humanitarian work in the United States and abroad.

Obama presented Bush with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday in recognition of his humanitarian efforts after the 2004 South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush was recognized along with 14 other honorees during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

During the ceremony, Obama praised the elder Bush’s service and humility.

“Like the remarkable Barbara Bush, his humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit. This is a gentleman," Obama said.

Bush partnered with fellow former U.S. President Bill Clinton after the 2004 tsunami to raise money to help victims of the disaster. The pair collected more than $1.8 million in a charity golf tournament with pro golfer Greg Norman.

The two also visited the region after the disaster, which left more than 200,000 people dead.

“It's terribly moving. The children are what gets me the most," Bush said of his visit.

Bush fundraised again with Clinton when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the U.S. Gulf Coast. Together, they raised more than $100 million for the aid and relief of the 500,000 families that lost their homes due to flooding and high winds.

The pair’s bipartisan efforts turned heads and earned recognition from ABC News, who named them both the 2005 People of the Year.

Obama also credited Bush for his efforts to reduce nuclear weapons, his direction in guiding the end of the Cold War, and his handling of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis; investor Warren Buffett; celloist Yo-Yo Ma; author Maya Angelou; and former Boston Celtics player Bill Russell were also awarded the 2010 Medal of Freedom.

The nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is presented to individuals who have made special contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to significant cultural or public endeavors.