No matter how far we go in life, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who gave us those first, firm pushes at the start. For me, one of those people was Ab Mikva. When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, but I know why he did it—Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country. Ab’s life was a testament to that truth. Six decades ago, when he first tried to volunteer in Democratic politics, the Chicago political machine told him that they “don’t want nobody nobody sent.” Ab didn’t take no for an answer because he knew that in America, in our democracy, everybody can be somebody—everybody matters.
That conviction led Ab—a son of immigrants and a World War II veteran—to serve Illinois as a state legislator and serve our nation in every branch of government—as a congressman, federal judge, and White House counsel. In every position he held, Ab’s integrity and wisdom consistently put him on the right side of history, from fighting against prejudice and discrimination and for free speech and civil liberties. He reformed Illinois’s criminal code, defended consumers’ rights, and although his decision striking down the ban on gay Americans serving in our military was overturned, history proved him right.
Like so many admirers, I’ve lost a mentor and a friend. But as we mourn his passing, I’m comforted by the thought that countless Americans will continue fighting for progressive causes Ab believed in because he pushed them toward public service, both during his time in government and through Mikva Challenge, which he established with his wonderful wife, Zoe. We’re all better off because we were sent Ab Mikva, and because Ab in turn sent us forward to do big things. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Zoe, their three daughters, seven grandchildren, and the generations of young patriots Ab inspired. May his memory be for a blessing.
-President Barack Obama, 7/5/16