WASHINGTON, June 19, 2012 – Recognizing their selfless, generous and tireless commitment toward improving the world around them, Jim Kelly, Pat LaFontaine and Charlie Kimball have been awarded with the Jefferson Award, one of the nation’s top honors for community service and volunteerism. Past recipients of the 40-year-old award include General Colin Powell, television personality Oprah Winfrey, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and NFL star Peyton Manning.
Kelly, a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, LaFontaine, a Hall of Fame center for hockey’s New York Islanders, New York Ranger and Buffalo Sabres, and Kimball, an IndyCar racrer will join 14 other recipients from around the country at a Washington, D.C., gala June 19 to receive the 40th annual Jefferson Awards, known as the “Nobel Prize for Public Service.” All three are recipients of the Jefferson Award in the category Outstanding Athlete in Service and Philanthropy.
The Jefferson Awards are bestowed in five categories: national recipients, “unsung heroes” at the community level, champion winners (affiliated with companies or organizations), schools, and, for the third time, professional athletes.
After a splendid career as quarterback at the University of Miami, Kelly was selected in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Instead, Kelly opted to join the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, where he became the league’s MVP in 1984 after throwing for 5,219 yards and 44 touchdowns. After the USFL folded, he joined Buffalo in 1986 and guided the Bills to playoffs in eight of his 11 seasons under center. Kelly is the only quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to four straight Super Bowls (1991-93). A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Kelly finished his career with 35,467 passing yards and 237 touchdowns, which rank in the Top 20 in NFL history – the Bills went 101-59 with him as the starting quarterback. At the time he topped 30,000 career passing yards, only three quarterbacks had reached the mark faster. And Kelly passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season eight times, his best being 3,844 in 1991-92, when he also threw a career-best 33 touchdowns. In 2001, Kelly’s name was added to the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame and he became the first and only Bills player to have his number (No. 12) officially retired. Kelly was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2002, the first year he was eligible.
Two weeks after he announced his retirement, Kelly and his wife Jill welcomed a son named Hunter. Several months later, Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe Leukodystrophy, an inherited fatal nervous system disease. Kelly and his wife started Hunter’s Hope Foundation that same year in honor of Hunter, whose life expectancy was no more than two years but lived until he was 8½. The Kellys bring encouragement and hope to families in the midst of suffering by: funding research necessary to treat and cure Krabbe Disease and other devastating leukodystrophies; increasing newborn screening standards to obtain early detection and treatment for all treatable diseases; and inspiring all parents to thank God for their children. Kelly also gives back to disabled and disadvantaged youth in Western New York through Kelly for Kids, a foundation that has distributed more than $4 million to local children’s charities.
“During the years I played in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, community service and reaching out to others was such an important part of my role with the team,” Kelly said. “Not only did I feel that I had a responsibility to give back to a community that I was fortunate enough to be a part of; but I also knew that I had an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Although my playing days are over; my platform has greatly expanded and my commitment to community is stronger than ever. I feel privileged to be able to do the work I am doing. I would never have been able to do it without a team effort, whether it was football, family or charity. I am very blessed.”
LaFontaine was a first-round pick (and third pick overall) of the New York Islanders in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, beginning an amazing 15-year career that culminated with him being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Minnesota in 2003. LaFontaine played for all three New York hockey teams, starring for the Islanders from 1983-91 before playing for the Buffalo Sabres from 1991-97 and ending his career with the New York Rangers during the 1997-98 season. LaFontaine’s best season was 1992-93 when he finished second to Mario Lemieux in points and was named to the NHL All-Star Second Team. He earned the league’s Bill Masterton Trophy as the player who has the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey during the 1994-95 season. In all, LaFontaine played in five All-Star Games and finished his career with 1,013 points, the third American to top 1,000 points – his 1.17 points per game ranks 17th all-time and is tops among American-born NHL players.
While with the Sabres, LaFontaine became heavily involved with the Buffalo Children’s Hospital, which led to his founding of the Companions in Courage Foundation in 1997. The nonprofit raises funds to build interactive playrooms in hospitals throughout North America. Known as “Lion’s Dens,” the playrooms – complete with video games, TVs, DVD players and other amenities – replace the isolation children can feel at a hospital with family, friends and fun during their hospital stay. The Companions in Courage Foundation believes that no child in the fight for life or health should ever have to go through it alone. It offers courage, friendship and support to children and families who are overcoming illness and life-threatening obstacles all across North America. For his efforts, he has been honored by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society with the Patriot Award in 2000 and by the Gift of Life Foundation with the International Humanitarian Award in 2003.
“I represent a great team of sponsors and ‘companions’ who understand the importance of helping those in need,” LaFontaine said. “The courage exhibited by the children we meet in hospitals across this country gives me great hope for their [and our] future. As a long-time admirer of Thomas Jefferson – particularly his love of architecture and of wine – I am humbled to receive this recognition in his name.”
From the age of 9, Kimball has shown a love of racing. He began racing go-karts and over his first few years, he won seven National Go-Karting Championships. Kimball began open-wheel racing when he was 17, winning his first race, and eventually moved into British Formula 3 racing, where in 2005, he won five races – setting two track records and finishing second in the championship – becoming the first American in 13 years to win a British F3 race. Two years later, while competing in the World Series by Renault, Kimball was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He returned to racing in 2008 in the F3 Euroseries before returning to the U.S. racing with Team PBIR in Firestone Indy Lights in 2009. That same year, he partnered with novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company dedicated to diabetes care. In 2011, he joined the newly formed Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Team in the IZOD IndyCar Series, where he became the first driver with Type 1 diabetes to race in the Indy 500 (finishing 13th of 33 racers). He finished eighth in this year’s Indy 500.
Since his diagnosis, Kimball has been a hero to the diabetes community, regularly making appearances and spreading awareness of diabetes. He is committed to helping others pursue their dreams and not let diabetes stand in their way. He has become a spokesperson, inspirational leader and poster child for overcoming challenges and pursuing your dreams.
About the Jefferson Awards
Co-founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard, the Jefferson Awards annually celebrate America’s commitment to public service. Recognizing both the famous and the unknown, individuals and organizations, the young and old, the awards reflect one of the founding ideals of our nation, that of contributing toward the larger good. As Thomas Jefferson himself wrote, “Private charities as well as contributions to public purposes in proportion to everyone's circumstances are certainly among the duties we owe to society.” The Jefferson Award recipients are nominated from throughout the country and selected by the organization’s board of directors. Honorees are chosen on the basis of two main criteria: the outstanding nature of the acts of service and the impact on the community of those acts. For more information on the Jefferson Awards, visit www.JeffersonAwards.org