On the evening of June 12, 2018, more than a decade after the centennial celebration of the founding of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission by Andrew Carnegie, 275 invited guests returned to Carnegie Music Hall to honor his philanthropic legacy and 10,000 Carnegie heroes.
The event, themed as “The Power of One – A Tribute to the Power of the Individual,” marked the second in a year-long series of events around the world to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Carnegie’s death in 1919. The evening’s program celebrated Carnegie’s enduring impact in Pittsburgh, and included Pittsburgh’s four ‘Carnegie’ institutions – the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University.
Master of Ceremonies Scott Simon, a decorated journalist, author, and host of Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR, welcomed guests to the festivities. The Chicago native proved he had indeed done his homework with his expert pronunciation of the Carnegie name. Following Simon’s introduction, William E. Hunt, chair of the museums’s Board of Trustees, and Mark Laskow, chair of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, provided additional introductions.
Laskow noted Carnegie’s legacy of benevolence.
“More than a century ago, Andrew Carnegie built a series of organizations in North America and Europe through which he intended to do nothing less than make the world a better place. That’s an ambitious goal, but he was an ambitious man. His building materials were money and ideas, and he built well,” he said.
After dinner, guests moved into the intimate auditorium of Carnegie Music Hall to hear words on the educational impact and legacy of Andrew Carnegie from Farnam Jahanian, president and Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair of Carnegie Mellon University, and Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Hero Fund President Eric P. Zahren spoke of the strength of character and altruistic bravery engrained in Carnegie’s heroes. He referenced the selfless actions of William Hunter, a Scottish boy who lost his life attempting to save another child from drowning in a lake in 1886, believing it gave “life to a movement — the very same we celebrate tonight — in support of an idea that one individual, acting selflessly in behalf of another, can in itself not only save a life, but give life to hope for our future and the world.”
At the end of his address, Zahren revealed a Roll of Honor of Carnegie Medal-awarded heroes and heroines, completed with meticulous attention and in accordance with the Deed of Trust, which calls for a “finely executed roll.” This timely tribute to the more than 10,000 past and present Carnegie Heroes, not only indicated the unwavering sense of bravery and self-sacrifice found in humans, but also the Carnegie Hero Fund’s commitment to sharing the stories of individuals such as Vickie Tillman and Jimmy Rhodes, who were the guests of honor at the gala as the commission’s 10,000th and 10,001st Carnegie Medal awardees, respectively.
Following Zahren’s words, keynote speaker and Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton returned home to recognize the 10,000th and 10,001st Carnegie Medal awardees. During his long and impactful acting career, he has embodied heroes such as Batman, but spoke of the importance of the Fund’s deferent treatment of the title ‘hero’ and the recognition of true noble acts of valor, evident in Carnegie Heroes.
He noted that the common denominator of heroism is courage.
“Courage shows up all the time in this world and often without any fanfare,” he said.
Before the presentation of medals, the audience viewed a short video about the commission’s history, in addition to a moving reflection of the heroic actions of guests of honor, Tillman and Rhodes. As the videos played, the audience pensively looked on; the stories of Tillman and Rhodes taking hold.
Carnegie Hero #10,000 Vickie Tillman, 56, a school cafeteria clerk, was honored for helping to rescue police Cpl. Billy A. Aime, 44, from a Feb. 19, 2017, assault in Baton Rouge, La. Aime had been arresting a man beside his police car in a vacant parking lot when a fierce struggle ensued. Tillman stopped at the scene and called 911. Upon seeing blood on Aime’s head as he attempted to maintain control of his holstered gun, Tillman proceeded to grasp the assailant’s hand, pulling it off of Aime’s gun. Arriving police officers eventually subdued the assailant and halted the attack. Aime, who suffered a concussion, was off work for one month; he recovered. Tillman was treated for wrist pain and recovered.
As Simon read the details of Tillman’s acts aloud, Aime, who towered over the 5’2” Tillman, placed the Carnegie Medal over her head.
“Ms. Vickie saved my life. Anything for her, I’m willing to do,” Aime said.
Carnegie Hero #10,001 Jimmy Rhodes, 38, rescued Patrick E. Mahany, Jr., 64, from a burning medical helicopter on July 3, 2015, in Frisco, Colo. After hearing of the helicopter crash in the hospital’s parking lot, Rhodes, a radiographic technologist employed by the hospital, ran to the helicopter’s nose with a fire extinguisher, spraying Mahany and attempting to reach for his legs to free him from the burning wreckage. Two nurses aboard the helicopter escaped. Although Rhodes successfully pulled Mahany from the burning wreckage, Mahany did not survive the severe burns, blunt force, and internal thermal injuries he suffered. Rhodes received medical treatment for smoke inhalation and burns and recovered.
At the event, Mahany’s widow, Karen Mahany, in an emotional moment, presented the Carnegie Medal to Rhodes, both of their eyes wet with tears. The audience members, many of whom were also moved to tears, stood and applauded Tillman and Rhodes for several, heartfelt minutes.
Andrew Carnegie’s dedication to honoring civilian heroes continues to be fulfilled by the Carnegie Hero Fund. More than 114 years later, during a celebratory evening at the Carnegie Music Hall, the presentation of the 10,000th and 10,001st Carnegie Medals are testament to the steadfast, inherent capability of humans to act selflessly and bravely at times when they are needed most.
—Abby Brady, Commission intern