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Va. pioneer to receive Medal of Freedom

97-year-old NASA mathematician headed to White House for highest civilian honor

Thomas Kidd | 11/20/2015, 7:36 p.m.
Former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson could not have calculated her trajectory to the White House. The 97-year-old Newport News resident ...

“She’s always wanted to talk with the president about how children are being educated today, ” added Mrs. Hylick.

Mrs. Johnson retains her passion for learning and is tireless in her efforts to get young people interested in learning — especially in the areas of science and technology.

“She will tutor students today, if they ask her,” Mrs. Hylick said.

Not just an academic, Mrs. Johnson was an avid tennis and golf player during her younger years. Today, she still enjoys getting outside and will entertain any academic conversation.

“She holds court regularly. She loves to engage with people who she can learn something from,” her daughter said.

The world may have an opportunity to learn more about her life as a children’s book and a motion picture biopic are being considered for future release. Casting will begin next year, and Mrs. Johnson and her family are watching with a careful eye how Hollywood portrays the humble scientist.

“We don’t want anything sensationalized because that’s not the type of person she is,” Mrs. Hylick said.

Other Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients:

Yogi Berra (posthumous), who spent 40 years as a professional baseball catcher, manager and coach.

Bonnie Carroll, a retired major in the Air Force Reserve, who founded TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, to support families impacted by the death of their loved one serving in the military.

Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), who made history in 1968 by becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. She made history again in 1972 by becoming the first African-American woman to seek the presidential nomination as a major party candidate.

Emilio Estefan, a music producer, entrepreneur, author and songwriter who has won 19 Grammy Awards and influenced a generation of artists.

Gloria Estefan, a singer, songwriter, actor and entrepreneur who introduced Latin music to a global audience.

Billy Frank Jr. (posthumous), a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship.

Lee Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, who has been influential on international relations and American national security for more than 40 years. After retiring from Congress, he was vice president of the 9/11 Commission and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. He also has served as co-chair of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future.

Willie Mays, a professional baseball player who spent most of his 22 seasons as a center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants.

Barbara Mikulski, a U.S. senator from Maryland who has held elected office since 1971. In 2012, she was the longest serving woman in Congress and the first female senator to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Itzhak Perlman, a renowned violinist, conductor and sought-after teacher who has won four Emmy Awards, 16 Grammy Awards and the 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

William Ruckelshaus, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, who worked to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change.

Stephen Sondheim, one of the nation’s most influential theater composers and lyricists.

Steven Spielberg, noted film director, producer, philanthropist and entrepreneur. 

Barbra Streisand, who is acclaimed for singing, acting, directing, producing and songwriting. She has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

James Taylor, a recording and touring artist who has sold more than 100 million albums during the course of his songwriting and performing career. 

Minoru Yasui (posthumous), a civil and human rights leader. A graduated of the University of Oregon School of Law, he challenged the constitutionality of a military order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent the rest of his life appealing his wartime conviction.