America has lost a remarkable man. Dr. James Billington was a great friend of the Kemp family and a true treasure for our country. In leading the Library of Congress, he dedicated nearly three decades of his life “to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” He was a curator of ideas. And his great love of freedom, dignity, and human aspiration reverberated around the world.
In 2014, the Jack Kemp Foundation was privileged to honor Dr. Billington with the Kemp Leadership Award, in recognition of his exceptional leadership in advancing the American Idea. That night, the great granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, Nina Khrushcheva, spoke in tribute to Dr. Billington for the inspiration he had been to her as a young girl, and so many others behind the Iron Curtain, where books not approved by the Soviet regime had to be smuggled and hidden from view. “The book by James Billington,” she said, “really was the book that changed my mind about Russia but also changed my view about the world.”
As Dr. Billington so beautifully explained, “Western freedom was not so much a theory as an evolutionary process of human aspiration that has given birth to thousands of stories of new opportunity and hope for people everywhere.” His life story, and the countless contributions he made as an author, a scholar, and as America’s Librarian, is an indelible part of that evolution.
On behalf of the Jack Kemp Foundation and the entire Kemp family, we extend our heartfelt condolences to Marjorie and the Billington family.