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John Doar collects presidential medal

Photo by Yetta Olmstead President Barack Obama places the Presidential Medal of Freedom around New Richmond native John Doar during a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the White House. John Glenn, another recipient, is seated in the background.

New Richmond was well represented at the White House on Tuesday.

John Doar, a New Richmond native, was among 13 recipients of this year's Presidential Medals of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama. Doar's brother, Tom, a New Richmond attorney, was in attendance for the big day.

Doar, along with other notable American icons such as Bob Dylan, Madeleine Albright, Toni Morrison and John Glenn, attended the May 29 afternoon ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

The ceremony took less than an hour, as each recipient was presented with a medal and their contributions to society were recalled. Doar sat between Morrison and Albright while he waited for his medal presentation.

The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made significant contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace, or to cultural or other specific public or private endeavors.

"I was kind of dumbfounded when I heard the news," said Doar in an interview prior to Tuesday's ceremony.

Doar is recognized as a leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s. He served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

In that capacity, he was involved with many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Miss., following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963.

Doar brought notable civil rights cases to trial, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss., and led the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In acknowledging the role Doar played in the Civil Rights movement, President Obama called the New Richmond native "the face of the Justice Department in the South."

Obama even went as far as to say that he might not have been elected president had it not been for the courageous work of Doar and others in the 1960s.

John Doar later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

His brother, Tom, said John Doar intended to practice law in California after graduating from the University of California Law School. He took the bar exam there, but there weren't any jobs available in California at the time.

John Doar moved to Oregon with the intention of practicing law there, but his father (also an attorney) became ill on a trip to Norway. When John returned to see his dad, the elder Doar convinced his son to take the Wisconsin bar exam.

"Before he knew it, he'd settled down in New Richmond," Tom recalled. "We had a very busy practice."

Doar lived in New Richmond and practiced law here from 1950 to 1960, before heading east to work in the government.

In 1960, a former classmate of John Doar's called about a possible opening with the government.

"He went to Washington and never came back," Tom said. "But he's maintained his affection for New Richmond ever since."

Tom said his brother still owns his parents' former house, and John Doar often returns to town for visits.

Tom said he was glad that his brother had an extra ticket so he could attend the White House ceremony. Each medal recipient was allowed just five tickets for Tuesday's gathering in the East Room.

It was not the first time Tom had ever been in the White House, however. Years ago, Tom's father took him on a trip to Washington, D.C. and the young Doar had the chance to shake the hand of President Calvin Coolidge.

"I don't have any recollection of it at all," he admitted.

John Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York.