Carnegie Commission concludes ‘heroic spirit persists’ in release of 2015-16 biennial report
PITTSBURGH, PA., March 13, 2017—At night, William Ayotte fought off a polar bear that was attacking a young woman outside his Churchill, Man., home. Off-duty Rochester (N.Y.) Police Officer Christine Alicia Wilson “took off my police hat and put on my motherly hat” when she repeatedly entered a burning minivan to rescue three children. Silicon Valley tech marketer Philip Scholz of Pleasanton, Calif., was on his way home when he leaned into the path of an onrushing commuter train to pull a man from the track.
For their efforts, each was awarded the Carnegie Medal, given by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission of Pittsburgh, Pa. The private operating foundation was established by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in 1904 to recognize civilian heroism, defined by the Commission to be an act of lifesaving undertaken at extreme risk to the life of the rescuer. Scholz’s award was made posthumously, as he was struck by the train. The man he was saving was spared.
Accounts of the heroic actions of Ayotte, Wilson, and Scholz appear alongside those of 174 other ordinary citizens from throughout the United States and Canada in the Commission’s biennial report for 2015 and 2016, which has just been released. “As nearly as we can tell,” Commission Chair Mark Laskow says in the report’s preface, the “heroic spirit has never flickered or faltered in the century-plus that we have been observing and recording the acts of these heroes.”
To date, the Hero Fund has considered more than 88,000 heroic acts for awarding and from them has selected 9,914 for recognition, with the 10,000th awardee to be named early next year. Historically, 20 percent of the awards were to those who lost their lives in rescue attempts, exemplifying the scripture that appears on every medal: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
In addition to the medal, each of the heroes or their survivors received a financial grant and became eligible for other benefits from the Hero Fund, including scholarship aid, ongoing assistance, and death benefits. More than $38.6 million in such grants has been awarded by the Commission since its inception, in keeping with Mr. Carnegie’s wish that “if the hero is injured in his bold attempt to serve or save his fellows, he and those dependent upon him should not suffer pecuniarily.”