Robert Gates made history last year when he became the only secretary of Defense in U.S. history to be asked to remain in office by a newly elected president.
Tonight, he will be honored in Topeka for his place in history and his Kansas roots. He will be named "Kansan of the Year" at the annual dinner of the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas.
His office issued a statement: "The secretary's excited, of course, to return to his home state, humbled by this distinction, and very much looks forward to accepting this award before an audience full of family and friends."
Gates was born in Wichita; he graduated from East High School in 1961. He returned last May to be the keynote speaker at East High's graduation ceremonies.
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"In many ways, of all the places I've gone, of all the jobs I've held, I consider myself first and foremost a kid who grew up in Kansas and got lucky," Gates told the crowd then.
Gates joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional, serving six presidents. He was director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993. He has been awarded the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal twice, and CIA's highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, three times.
The Kansas award will be presented by Gov. Mark Parkinson.
"Robert Gates answered the call to service in 1966 and continues that call today with honor and integrity," Parkinson said in a statement Thursday. "We are proud to call him a native son of Kansas."
In years past, the Native Sons and Daughters, a group that works to preserve the state's history, has honored country singer Martina McBride, basketball legend Lynette Woodard and the nation's 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"This is our highest honor," said Mary Lou Reece, a spokeswoman for the group. "When we called his staff to tell them about the award, someone asked, 'Is it a monetary thing?' Oh no, it's mostly a plaque and a piece of paper. But what we are doing is celebrating the values of Kansans and what Kansans have brought to the state and world. With Secretary Gates, we are talking about a global figure, someone who is working at the highest level and serving his country admirably."