Young-Woo Kang Gives Gift to Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy

Issue Date: 
January 18, 2011
Young-Woo Kang and Dick ThornburghYoung-Woo Kang and Dick Thornburgh

It was a rainy day in 1975 when Dick Thornburgh (LAW ‘57) offered a ride to a young doctoral student who was making his way across Pitt’s campus using a white cane to navigate and an umbrella to shield himself from the downpour.

Thornburgh’s act of kindness, which sparked a lifelong friendship between the two, was reciprocated recently when the man, Young-Woo Kang (EDUC ‘73G, ‘76G), made a gift to the University of Pittsburgh in support of the Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy.

“Dr. Kang is a great humanitarian,” said Pitt Trustee Thornburgh, who would go on to become the governor of Pennsylvania, attorney general of the United States, and under-secretary-general of the United Nations. “We are fortunate that he is willing to serve on the advisory board of the Forum, and I am very grateful for his generous contribution.”

The Thornburgh Forum and its associated University-based archive of papers and other materials detailing Thornburgh’s diverse career offer programs in schools and centers across the University. It was established in 2007 to foster public education and civic action concerning important public policy issues that reflect Thornburgh’s career and interests, including something in which he and his wife, Ginny, have played active roles—advocacy for people with physical and mental challenges.

A native of Korea, Kang was blinded in a sporting accident as a teenager. Upon learning that her son would be permanently blind, a disability that was openly shunned in Korea at the time, Kang’s mother died of a heart attack that same day while walking home from his hospital bedside.

Sightless and an orphan in a society that provided few accommodations and fewer opportunities for such individuals, Kang went on to overcome his despair and meet the challenges posed by his disability. He became the first blind person to be admitted to Yonsei University in Seoul and the first to earn both master’s and doctoral degrees. A Rotary Foundation Scholar while at the University of Pittsburgh, he earned his master’s degree in special education and rehabilitation counseling and his doctorate in education.

Kang has served as a policy adviser for the National Council on Disability, a post to which President George W. Bush appointed him in 2001. He also served as a distinguished professor at Northeastern Illinois University and dean of international affairs and a professor at South Korea’s Taegu University.

Kang has written several books, including an autobiography, A Light in My Heart (John Knox Press, 1987), which has been translated into seven languages, is a U.S. Library of Congress Talking Book, and was made into an award-winning film.

Both Kang and Thornburgh have been recognized widely for their outstanding advocacy for individuals with physical and mental challenges. Among Kang’s many awards are the Rotary Foundation Global Alumni Service to Humanity Award and, in 2008, being named a University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Alumni Fellow. Thornburgh, who also has received numerous honors, donated the $50,000 Henry C. Betts Award he and Ginny Thornburgh received from the American Association of People With Disabilities to the University of Pittsburgh to establish the Thornburgh Family Lecture Series in Disability Law and Policy.

Like Kang, Thornburgh’s work on behalf of people with disabilities was inspired by personal experience. In 1960, an automobile accident killed his first wife and injured his three young sons, including 4-month-old Peter, who suffered multiple skull fractures and extensive brain damage. As parents of a son with intellectual disability, Dick and Ginny Thornburgh have dedicated their lives to improving those of people with disabilities. Their efforts were recognized by The ARC of Pennsylvania, which named them “Family of the Year” in 1985.